Much like Peter Rabbit before it, the new childrens movie Show Dogs appears to have inadvertently—or advertently, depending on how prone you are to embracing conspiracy theories—included a scene that could send a dangerous message to its pint-sized viewers. Those with weak constitutions—or who dont want the ending of Show Dogs spoiled for them—should probably stop reading right about now.
On the surface, the movie—a canine-flavored riff on Miss Congeniality—is innocuous enough. It stars Ludacris as a police dog named Max who has to go undercover in a fancy dog show. In order to blend in, Max must get accustomed to the rituals of the competition—including the part when his genitals get inspected as part of his overall performance. As such, the film includes a scene in which the judges “inspect” Max—one that “grooms” children for sexual predators, according to the National Center on Sexual Exploitation.
In response to their objections, the makers of Show Dogs have released an apology and an explanation for the scene.
“It has come to our attention that there have been online discussion and concern about a particular scene in Show Dogs, a family comedy that is rated PG,” the statement, per Entertainment Weekly, begins. “The dog show judging in this film is depicted completely accurately as done at shows around the world; and was performed by professional and highly respected dog show judges. Global Road Entertainment and the filmmakers are saddened and apologize to any parent who feels the scene sends a message other than a comedic moment in the film, with no hidden or ulterior meaning, but respect their right to react to any piece of content.”
Show Dogs, directed by Raja Gosnell, hit theaters on May 18—and it did not take long for the controversy to gain traction. Complaints were kicked off by family film blogger Terina Maldonado, who criticized the film in a post for Macaroni Kid by saying it contains a “dark and disturbing message.”
“During the movie, I kept thinking, This is wrong, it doesnt need to be in a kids movie. Everything else in the movie is good fun except for this,” she wrote.
Several film critics also noted in their reviews how uncomfortable the scene is. Dawn Hawkins, the executive director of the N.C.O.S.E., subsequently released the following statement condemning the scene:
“The movie Show Dogs sends a troubling message that grooms children for sexual abuse. It contains multiple scenes where a dog character must have its private parts inspected, in the course of which the dog is uncomfortable and wants to stop but is told to go to a zen place. The dog is rewarded with advancing to the final round of the dog show after passing this barrier. Disturbingly, these are similar tactics child abusers use when grooming children—telling them to pretend they are somewhere else, and that they will get a reward for withstanding their discomfort. Childrens movies must be held to a higher standard, and must teach children bodily autonomy, the ability to say no and safety, not confusing messages endorsing unwanted genital touching.”
This is the second time this year that a childrens movie has been plagued by unforeseen controversy. In February, Sonys adaptation of Peter Rabbit was criticized for making light of food allergies; in one scene, a villainous character who is allergic to blackberries is pelted with the fruit and starts to have an allergic reaction, until hes able to grab his EpiPen and save himself. Parents and the Kids with Food Allergies Foundation slammed the movie for “food-allergy bullying.” Sony and the Peter Rabbit team swiftly issued an apology, putting the kibosh on the scandal; now, it seems, the flop sweat baton has since been passed to the Show Dogs team.
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