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Arthur The King (Christian Movie Review)

About the Film 

With apologies to the weird cat people out there, dogs are objectively and indisputably the best animal. Hollywood filmmakers discovered long ago that putting a dog into a movie is a “cheat code” for gaining audience sympathy. Still, not all dog movies are created equal. Starring Mark Walberg, Arthur the King is based on an incredible true story and has all the elements necessary for success, the most important being a very “good boy” at its center. Unfortunately, the film is derailed by questionable creative decisions, including an inexplicable amount of profanity and an uneven tone, resulting in a dog movie with too much bark and not enough bite.   

A rule of thumb for critics is to review the movie that is rather than the movie you might wish there was. Did the creatives involved effectively execute their vision for the story, even if that vision differs from my own? This guideline poses a challenge for Arthur and the King, a film that contains a few unwelcome surprises from what its marketing materials implied. Arthur (the dog) is clearly the main event. But apart from occasional brief check-ins, he does not fully link up with the human racers until 52 minutes into the runtime. The human characters must carry much of the story, and that is where problems arise.         

Not every movie featuring a dog as a central cast member is required to be sanitized family fare. Adults are no less susceptible to the power of dogs than younger viewers are, after all. Even so, there was nothing in this film’s trailers to indicate that it wouldn’t be a standard family-friendly drama. The first few minutes are all that is needed to dispel that expectation.

Mark Walberg has demonstrated throughout his career that he is no stranger to obscenities. Even his faith-centric film Father Stu was notable for its heavy profanity. That same propensity for cursing unexpectedly finds its way into Arthur the King, in which profanities are barked out in nearly every scene. The movie has the outward appearance of an inspirational family-friendly story, but having characters drop an F-bomb or spit out “s—” twenty-five times suggests that the filmmakers had a different vision.   

The film is about a multi-day, cross-country “adventure race” in which competitors must chart a straight path to their goal. Indecision can be the difference between winning and losing. The issue with Arthur the King as a film is not necessarily that its vision veers in unexpected (or unwanted) directions but that it can’t seem to commit to a strategy. Is it a cute dog movie for families or a gritty racing story? The indecision results in a film that is unlikely to please either potential audience. My own 9-year-old sons were captivated by the trailers, but I wouldn’t take them to a film with as many as 50 profanities regardless of how irresistibly cute the dog is. On the other hand, it is not necessarily a captivating drama that would draw me in as an adult.  

Classic animal movies like Babe and Homeward Bound weren’t exactly Oscar-bait dramas. Such films offer warm and fuzzy feelings. If they stir up those emotions, they are considered a success. But when a film explores harder content, it must be graded on a different scale. By those metrics, Arthur the King doesn’t hold up well. Most elements of the film fall firmly in the middle of the pack quality-wise. The film is littered with silted dialogue, uninventive tropes, and acting that is not “bad,” but is hardly inspired.   

These shortcomings are too bad, because the story has a lot of promise. The film reminds me of Candy Cane Lane, Amazon Prime’s Christmas film from last year, which was a potentially fun family flick thwarted by unforced errors and a lack of restraint by the filmmakers. Remove the excessive profanity, and you are left with a standard feel-good story involving an animal. The cinematography showcases some beautiful shots of the lush countryside, and the race itself is exciting at times. There are also some genuinely sweet emotional moments between Arthur and the human racers.  

Arthur the King may not finish the race in last place, but it’s odd creative decision to alienate potential family audiences will likely take it out of medal contention. Dog-lovers or audiences looking for an uplifting, feel-good story may find that this film sufficiently scratches that itch, but children may do well to sit this one out.

On the Surface

For Consideration

Beneath The Surface

Engage The Film

Selfless Survivors     

The true theme of the film is “dogs are awesome.” Beyond that, the movie has a positive message about perseverance and selflessness. Michael (Mark Walberg) has a commendable sense of resilience and tenacity. Despite his character flaws, nobody can question his willingness to endure suffering in pursuit of his goals. He is a survivor, and he yearns to prove his quality to the world by finally winning a grueling adventure race.     

While these traits are commendable, they are built on a self-centered attitude. His reasons for racing all lead back to himself, regardless of how much his ambitions cost those around him. Even the other members of his racing team become a means to an end. But cute dogs change people, and Arthur entering his life is the catalyst for Michael to take his eyes off himself and observe the needs of those around him.   

The Apostle Paul famously uses the metaphor of a race (1 Corinthians 9:24). He emphasizes the importance of perseverance, but also that Christians must press forward for a purpose beyond themselves. Biblically, tenacity and endurance are valuable traits, but they are empty if not directed toward selfless ends.

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