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Review: Arthur the King (2024)

Arthur the King (2024)

Directed by: Simon Cellan Jones

Premise: Based on true events. An extreme sports competitor (Mark Wahlberg) leads his team through a five-day race in the Dominican Republic. Along the way, the team is joined by a dog named Arthur (Ukai).

What Works: Arthur the King combines a dog movie and a sports drama. It is most successful as the former. The filmmakers demonstrate an understanding of what people love about canines and stories about them. Arthur is presented as a smart and loyal dog; he bonds with Mark Wahlberg’s character and after accepting a snack Arthur joins the team, at one point saving them from inadvertently marching off a cliff. Two key choices make this part of the movie work. First, the filmmakers cast an actual dog in the role instead of using a digital character as seen in the terrible 2020 version of Call of the Wild. The performance of an authentic animal performer has an immediate appeal and authenticity that a digitally created animal would not possess. Second, the filmmakers don’t overemphasize the anthropomorphism. Arthur gets a few cute animal moments but in general the dog remains an animal and not some Disneyfied version of one. The filmmakers exploit the canine appeal well and Arthur the King will appease dog people. Much of the film is set in the forest as the team travels cross country. There is a naturalism to the picture and it is often well shot and captures the difficulty of the team’s trip as they cope with exhaustion and the challenges of the terrain. The film includes a particularly harrowing sequence set on a zip line high above the trees. The dog and sports storylines are wedded together pretty well with Wahlberg’s character having to make choices that define his character.

What Doesn’t: Arthur the King has some trouble creating meaningful dramatic stakes. Wahlberg’s character is initially established as so competitive that he’s unpleasant. He enters this race as a last-ditch attempt at glory but there’s nothing much riding on whether or not he wins. This is especially evident at the end the race. The moment that should be a relief comes across flat and empty. The other teammates are given distinct personal qualities but not much comes of their backstories. The team’s climbing expert (Nathalie Emmanuel) has a terminally ill father but this detail is brought up and then dropped. The movie’s emotional appeal is muted and the dog not only saves Wahlberg’s character but largely saves the film. In that respect, Arthur the King feels a bit calculated. It coasts on the sentimental feelings many people have for dogs, using it to give the movie an emotional impact that the sports story lacks. 

Bottom Line: Arthur the King generally works as a man-and-his-dog story. The filmmakers tap into the qualities people find so charming about dogs. It’s does so a little too deliberately and the film is very sentimental.

Episode: #993 (April 21, 2024)