Arthur the King (dir. Simon Cellan Jones)

By: Emily Rigik

There are many people who will undoubtedly and unapologetically root for the redemption of a dog over a human being in any context. Filmmakers know that a certain type of moviegoer will always show up when they choose to center their storyline around man’s best friend. Director Simon Cellan Jones clearly takes aim at this target audience with his recent film Arthur the King, based on Mikael Lindnord’s book Arthur: The Dog Who Crossed the Jungle to Find a Home. Though its plot and characters lack depth and consistency of purpose, what this film does offer is an invitation for viewers to run home to embrace their furry family members.

Based on a true story, the versatile, charismatic Mark Wahlberg (The Departed, Patriots Day) produces and stars in the pet-friendly film as Michael Light: a scruffy, adrenaline seeking athlete who feels unsatisfied with his current resume of competitive races. Light is desperate for a win, and inevitably convinces a sponsor to back him and a team of athletes (Simu Liu, Nathalie Emmanuel, and Ali Suliman) that all have their flaws  (or a nagging, predictable character trope) that makes them the team of underdogs. Light chooses to feed his pride and leave his family for one final race alongside his imperfect team for an exhilarating journey in the 2018 Adventure Racing World Championship in the Dominican Republic. The team faces many trials along the way, but none seem to interfere with coming out of the 435 mile, all terrain journey victorious, until they meet Arthur: the true star - or really good boy -  of this film. 

Eventually, Arthur joins the team on their dangerous, exhilarating journey, which gains attention from followers around the world. Wahlberg’s character welcomes Arthur to join the team for the remainder of the race after having come so far on his own. This adorable mutt somehow follows the team on their path after becoming attached to Light at one of the transition points of the race. Though unlikely, this pup shows intense loyalty to the team in the most unlikely of ways; surviving conditions that make all dog-owners shiver and cringe. Viewers know who Arthur is long before Wahlberg feeds him his first meatball, with the subplot of the dog’s homeless and abusive past being revealed in a very obvious and choppy nature as the race begins. However, for roughly the first hour of the film, the focus is on extreme vignettes of the competition. Once Arthur is in the picture, each leg of the race feels redundant and unnecessary as viewers may feel increasingly impatient for the four legged star’s return. 

From start to finish, pet lovers everywhere will tear up at the serendipitous relationship between Light and Arthur, having bonded over their tough beginnings. Jones directs a story that always points back to the team’s four legged companion that teaches them the true value of a journey: endurance and friendship. The film leaves all pet lovers feeling validated in how they love animals as much as they do humans, and how they’re often willing to make life-altering sacrifices for their furry friends. 

Target Score: 3.5. There is no doubt that heartstrings were tugged throughout the entirety of the film due to the fearless and scrappy dog, Arthur. However, Jones pushes viewers to only care about the race being completed for the well-being of the dog, making Wahlberg’s character development and other aspects of the plot seem irrelevant and completely reliant upon Arthur’s presence. A “ruff” watch for critics, but an incredibly heartwarming story for dog lovers alike.