Original Title: Champion
On par with a Flicka sequel, this well-intentioned family B-movie replaces horses with canines and combines the pet-centric plotline with a gentler tween variation of a Taming of the Shrew style coming-of-age in this sweet if slight tale of a spoiled city girl who matures with the help of a new four-legged best friend during a summer spent in the country.
Helmed by a husband and wife team who’ve worked within the genre before, although the film suffers from its predictable by-the-numbers paradigm, its greatest weakness isn’t in the formula but in actress Dora Madison Burge’s borderline obnoxious heroine who whines like a self-satisfied Kardashian groupie hopped up on too much Red Bull.
An acronym spouting, eye-rolling drama queen who complains about having to stay with her estranged grandfather rancher after her mom his deployed to Afghanistan and her grandmother journeys to Russia for missionary work, it seems ludicrous that her two upstanding role-model matriarchs could’ve raised such an absolute brat.
And while predictably she experiences a much needed attitude change midway through the picture, it takes place both suddenly and offscreen, making the plight of Burge’s Madison and the film itself suffer from its abrupt and uneven execution once her mannerisms, behavior and personality suddenly downshift twenty notches and she becomes a completely new character.
The new and improved Madison is a welcome change but because it happens so unnaturally, it gives off the obviously erroneous (not to mention nonsensical) impression that the husband and wife team of Kevin and Robin Nation had taken turns directing the material and weren’t privy to any of the other footage that had been shot when they weren’t at the helm.
With a main character arc that’s weak at best, we’re left staying tuned for the affable supporting cast including Aliens star Lance Henriksen as Madison’s hard-working grandpa who’s struggling to make ends meet on the ranch and Cody Linley as Madison’s cute, obligatory dog-trainer love interest who helps inspire the girl to put down her electronics in order to have a real live conversation that isn’t based on instant messaging or text.
Forming an unexpected bond with a dejected cattle dog who misses her recently deceased sidekick just as much as Madison misses her soldier mother, soon Madison finds a new calling as a budding trainer, working alongside Linley’s character to enter a youth competition with a prize purse that just might help her grandpa keep the bankers at bay and save the ranch.
Obviously, the title gives away the ending, which suffice to say, might have only stunned very young children who have yet to be exposed to the vastly superior, similarly themed Flicka franchise of films, there’s nonetheless a sweet surprise in the final act that helps explain and augment the bond that Madison has with the dog that helps strengthen the film even more.
Needless to say, the last half of the picture is far greater than the first and you wish that more time would’ve been spent perfecting the script and especially reconfiguring the characterization and arc of Burge’s scenery-chewing, nerve-grating heroine.
And although it probably would’ve been better overall had it revolved around Linley’s stronger and far more intriguing dog trainer, which is a sad acknowledgement for a female co-directed film, My Dog the Champion is nonetheless a workmanlike yet warm-hearted, wholesome and well-intentioned effort that’s still bound to appeal to kids aged six through twelve.
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