The Disney Channel has been criticized for making too many shows and movies for and about pre-teen girls, and while the criticism is fair to some extent, the idea that they're all Lizzie McGuire clones is just wrong. Shows like "The Famous Jett Jackson," "American Dragon: Jake Long," "The Suite Life of Zack & Cody," and even Canadian import "Naturally, Sadie" are nothing like Lizzie McGuire, even though Sadie is the same age Lizzie was towards the end of that show's run. The same goes for the TV-movie "Life is Ruff," whose main character is a pre-teen boy in perhaps the best dog-loving movie for kids since "The Sandlot." In his first starring role, Kyle Massey plays Calvin Wheeler, a conniving 13-year-old boy with a great reputation, and a prized comic book collection. Wheeler is incredibly selfish, but not completely unwilling to do things for other people. This kid is no misfit, struggling through the grind of junior high(There's another stereotype broken), in fact he's got a best friend with asthma named Raymond Figg(Mitchel Musso), is popular with the other kids at school, because he does fantastic things for them, as long as they do them for him, and even has a few girls lining up to take him to a school dance. If you need another fictional character to compare him to, the best one would be Ferris Beuller. The only thing Calvin is missing is an out-of-reach first issue of his favorite comic book "Gotham-Man" from which he and Figg frequently quote the hero's catch-phrase "Expect the Impossible!" After recently getting the 2nd issue from the school basketball team in exchange for stealing an opposing team's play-book, he runs into a prized show dog who attacks him while skateboarding through a rich neighborhood. The dog's owner, a snobby kid named Preston Price(Carter Jenkins), brags that his dog won him $5000, and that's when he decides that he should get a dog too. Emily Watson("Phil of the Future's" Kay Panabaker) is a girl at his school who volunteers at a local animal shelter and cares more about the dogs and cats than the people who run it want her to, so much so that she names all the pets before they're adopted, and is a rabid opponent of dog shows. She also knows comics as well as he does. One of the dogs she names(Tyko) had a rough-upbringing by Disney standards. You could consider it a "Bambi-type" origin. Left out in the rain in a cardboard box as a puppy while waiting with other black puppies to be adopted for free, he grows up as a stray. When Calvin seeks a dog to adopt for the show, Emily persuades him to take Tyko, unaware of his plans for the dog, although clearly aware of his disdain for dogs.
As predicted, Calvin only wants Tyko long enough to win the top prize so he can buy that first issue of his favorite comic book, but when the huge pooch is determined to stay, Calvin warms up to him then changes his plans and decides to keep him. Needless to say it's Tyko who adopts Calvin, not the other way around. I had a big dog who adopted me rather than the other way around, so I'm very familiar with the subject. While the movie holds onto stereotypes like cute dogs, and bad rich people, it breaks a few as well by making fanboys popular, and even pushes the potential for a date between Emily & Calvin -- yes, interracial dating in junior high on The Disney Channel. This movie deserves to be on DVD, more than many others on the Disney Channel. More than "Life-Size," "Stuck in the Suburbs," "Pixel Perfect," "Go Figure," and even "Tiger Cruise," which was a good movie itself.