Common Sense Media, a good source for movie reviews from the eyes of parents. The site shares that although the movie has a "paper-thin plot" and a few insulting words and dog fart jokes, the message of the movie - being responsible when taking care of a pet - is a good one.
All of that is true, and I want to add to the review. The movie was far from stimulating to adults, but my kids loved the movie. They laughed all the way through it, and were touched when the main character proved to his mom that he was responsible enough to handle his own pet. In fact, that was my six year-old's favorite part of the movie.
There were a few subtle messages not mentioned in the movie review that I want to point out. Since beginning this blog, I've learned a little bit about the imbalance of women and girls portrayed in movies. So I watched Marley & Me: The Puppy Years with new eyes. Most of the leading characters were male. The female characters were like the movie plot: paper thin. There was a female puppy that worried about chipping her nails and disliked the color choices of an agility course ("It needs more pink!"). A girl that befriends the main character wears extremely tight and short shorts in her opening scene. Although the boy's mother has an important job, she proves to be a complete ditz. Finally, the team of bad guys includes a token female that only serves food, irons, and dusts quietly in the background.
I've also recently learned to pay more attention to the commercialization of kids through the media. This movie is not short on movie plugs. Coca-Cola, Sheraton hotels, Spam and Nike are all promoted heavily. Kids may not notice the use of name brands in the movie, but the seeds for brand recognition are definitely planted.
Overall, there was a positive message that inspired a good conversation between me and my kids (they want a dog), and they were truly entertained by a movie without violence, foul language and romantic themes. But if I were making the movie, I would change a few things, including giving a female a more important, or at least a more intelligent, role. I give the movie one thumb up.