‘The Dog Who Saved Christmas’ Re-released for 2011 Holiday Season

DogWhoSAvedXmas_200x290.jpgThe message at the heart of this slapstick tale of doggy derring-do from Anchor Bay is relevant any time of the year: Everyone deserves a second chance. Delivering it in a Christmas setting adds an extra zing because, as the mother in this story insists, “No one should be alone for Christmas.”

Shades of Home Alone, but here with a  former K-9 police dog as hero, give the film its big pay-off and most of its humor. Unfortunately, it takes far too long to get there, straining for humor and character identification along the way. Part of the problem with the movie is its ambivalence about what age audience it’s going for.

At the start of the movie, we meet Zeus, a golden Labrador Retriever who looks well fed and well cared for. But appearances must be deceiving, because Zeus shares his thoughts with us about gettting picked up and sent to an animal shelter so he can be assured of “three square meals on the inside.” (Zeus is not so much a talking character as one whose thoughts we are able to hear.) Such references are above the heads of the youngest viewers, but the tone of voice most characters use is the one that many adults affect when they try to make conversation with toddlers.

Zeus is adopted from the pound by George Bannister, who promised his wife, Belinda, that he would not buy a dog until the two of them had time to discuss it more. His sophistry (“I didn’t buy it; I got it for free”) raises a point about honesty parents may want to discuss with their kids after viewing the movie. Ostensibly, George wants a dog that can be a guard dog, as there’s been a robbery on their block; Belinda, however, suggests they get an alarm instead. What George really wants is a pet, because as a child he lost his dog. So when it becomes apparent that Zeus lacks a basic requisite — he can’t bark — George insists on giving him another chance.

The Bannister kids, Kara and Ben, are on their dad’s side, and we see them getting a DVD “Teach Your Dog to Bark.” Even though they profess to care about Zeus, we don’t see any real feeling to their words or actions.

The source of Zeus’ problem is explained in a short, confused flashback scene: On a police mission, he barked at the wrong time and blew a five-year investigation. Now, he knows he has to overcome this psychological block, and, predictably, it takes a robbery attempt on the Bannister’s house to get him past his hang-up.

Recurring gags are Zeus drinking out of the toilet and one of the robbers with a flatulence problem. The pair of robbers are, in many ways, more likeable than the family whose home they’re robbing. They are stupid and clumsy, easy foils for Zeus’ tricks, and their conversation and pratfalls — over-the-top though they are — provide the most honest humor in the movie.

A secondary story involves a hermit-like neighbor about whom Kara and Ben propagate a rumor that she poisons dogs. Zeus also plays a role in resolving her relationships in time for a merry Christmas.

Recommended for ages 9 to 12. 

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