Arthur the King (the adventure racing dog) Movie vs True Story Review

Arthur: The dog that crossed the jungle to find a home by Mikael Lindnord (2016)

Arthur the King directed by Simon Cellan Jones (2024)

This is the true story of an adventure racer who forms a bond with a stray dog he comes across while racing.

Book review

To begin with my quick spoiler free thoughts-the book was just okay in my opinion. It wasn’t as engaging, touching, exciting, sweet, or emotional as I had hoped it would be. I am a fan of endurance sports and I love dogs, so this seemed like something I would be in to. But there isn’t anything about this book that would make me recommend it to someone when they could learn about this story just be searching online and finding an article about it. The book doesn’t expound on the facts enough for it to be worthwhile.

When he is telling us about adventure racing (which is a team sport where you traverse the wilderness running, biking, kayaking, rock climbing and whatever else it takes to get to the finish and it lasts multiple days) he writes,  “… you also have to be very fit. Not just sprint fit so you can run or bike fast when the going’s easy, not just upper-body fit so you can drag yourself across ravines on ropes or paddle through rapids, but also mentally fit and strong to withstand the sleep deprivation and the hundred other pains and discomforts that go with doing adventure sports in gruelling environments for days on end. It is not everybody’s cup of tea. In fact, I would say that normal people – and most people are normal people – cannot even understand what motivates us to put ourselves through such an extreme form of . . . well, normal people would say ‘torture’.”

On multiple occasions he will say what “normal people” must think of adventure racers and that is what annoyed me in the section I just read. And he does it multiple times! Don’t tell us what normal people must think, just tell us how you feel about it.

As of the time I am recording this, the audiobook is free on audible. So if you are in a situation where you need to listen to something and have nothing prepared, then sure, download this for free and give it a listen. But if you aren’t in a desperate situation and need something asap, then I would say this one isn’t worth your time or money. I know that sounds harsh. It isn’t that I hated the book or anything, it was just very meh. And again, there isn’t anything here that would make me recommend the book over an article you could find online. (Watching this video will also suffice).

Movie review

I enjoyed the movie well enough. There are some truly suspenseful moments and some sweet scenes. It isn’t one I would say you need to see in theaters though, for most people I would say you can wait for it to be streaming. Having said that, I do want movies that aren’t these major blockbusters with crazy CGI and action scenes to be the movies that keep getting made since those are the ones that make money. So, in that regard, if you do go see this is theaters, it can only help the cause against superhero/over the top action movies.

Location and dates of events

I do have a gripe with the movie which isn’t a spoiler so I will get into it here. The movie starts out saying it is based on a true story, and throughout, they include places and dates of the various things taking place. But none of the places or dates are accurate to the true story! I know movies “based on true stories” take liberties. But my issue is why would they include the dates and locations, which imply that this is when and where things actually happened, when none of it is accurate?? Why not leave out all dates and why not use the real place? I know Michael is an American in the movie (in real life he is from Sweden) so that part makes sense to change where he lives, but specifically the location of the race is changes and I don’t know why. Even if they were not able to film in Ecuador, why not film in the Dominican Republic, but just say it is Ecuador for the sake of the movie? Again, I know movies always make changes, but they include the dates and places in order to make the audience see how real this story is and so the fact that none of it is accurate just really annoyed me. Take liberates with the story itself, but don’t include these specific details when they won’t even be right. We didn’t need to know any dates really, so if you didn’t want it to take place in 2014 like it did in real life then whatever, just don’t include dates.

From here on out there will be spoilers for both book and movie!
 

Michael and his team

In the movie, Michael is on hard times and is having to humble himself by working for his dad. He led an adventure race team three years prior, and due to his pride, they made mistakes and didn’t even finish the race. After three years, he wants to give it a go again. He is able to form a team and get a sponsor. We see him convince these three separate people to join him, and see him passionately speak to the company he wants to be sponsored by. Everyone involved is an underdog in some way, and we see why this race is important to them.

None of this is in the book. Mikael (who is Swedish) was not in dire circumstances and we don’t hear too much about his teammates. We do hear in both how he realizes that he is capable of enduring suffering-in the book it is when he is doing his mandatory military service but in the movie it is when he is in high school and is not accepted onto any of the teams and so he runs 15 miles three days in a row.

The race

There is a team expected to win in both, and in both, while on a training run, they see this guy hiking/running up a mountain with his kids, having a good time. Meanwhile, Michael and his team are struggling.

During the race, Michael’s navigator in the movie has them take multiple shortcuts which are more difficult, but help them cut down the mileage they have to cover. One shortcut leads them to a zipline, and when the woman team member goes across, she gets stuck and Michael has to go out and save her. This was such a stressful scene! Seriously, I was having such anxiety from this! We also have one of the guys get dehydrated and he needs an IV and per the rules, they have four hours docked. However, it is worth it because they are already ahead by this point, and a four-hour rest will ensure they are stronger and at the top of their game when they get back to it.

The only part of this that was in the book was someone needing an IV and them taking the 4-hour rest. They had a lot of setbacks in the book and they were never in the lead like we see in the movie. The race descriptions in the book also weren’t particularly interesting and were not suspenseful at all.

In the movie, they come in second and would have been first had they not turned back to get Arthur. In real life, they came in 12th. But in the book Mikael says of this, “We had made navigation mistakes, we’d had penalties, we hadn’t made as much progress as we should have done on a number of the early stages. By the time we’d got to the TA where we met Arthur, we had lost six hours more than we should have done. Normally I would be going over and over each stage of what had happened. Normally I would already be analysing where we could have made better time, or made fewer mistakes. But this wasn’t ‘normally’, I realised, as I found myself starting to think instead that if we hadn’t lost those six hours then I would never have met Arthur. Perhaps these things happen for a reason.”

Arthur

I guess I should talk about Arthur! In both they first see him at a transition area (TA) and Mikael/Michael gives him some food. They then continue on the race, and later see him yet again. At one point in the book, Mikael is able to convince his team to give Arthur their share of meatballs because Arthur is looking so bad. He places the food on a huge leaf, and says it is a meal fit for a king-hence the name Arthur. In the movie, it is a similar moment, but he calls him a king first with how patient the dog is and he isn’t begging for food. They then give him some of their meatballs, but not all of them, and Michael places them on a leaf. This scene felt like there was more ceremony to it in the book, but regardless, the movie is close enough.

Arthur sticks by their side, but once they get to the kayak portion, they can’t take him with them. However, as they are paddling away, Arthur jumps into the water and swims after them. Mikael knows Arthur isn’t the greatest swimmer based on an earlier experience, and he has grown close to this dog and wants to get him. We read, “I found myself talking to myself, in the way that I usually only do if I’m in real danger. This is it, I told myself, this is it. If you do this, it’s for good. No matter how damaged he is, how sick, he will be yours and your responsibility. You can’t ever push him away from you. You must love him. You and he will be together for ever if you do this. It’s for good.” So he has his teammate stope paddling, and they get Arthur into the kayak with them.

This happens in the movie as well, but in the movie they had been in first place and stopping to get Arthur is what causes them to come in second.

Taking Arthur home

In real life, getting Ecuador to let Mikael take Arthur proved ot be quite the ordeal, as well as getting Sweden’s permission to bring him in. The movie shows this to some extent, but it was a longer process in real life. In real life, there were also Ecuadorians claiming Arthur was their dog (he was famous because news of Mikael’s team getting a “fifth team member” was making headlines). This was not true of course but was just one of the many issues that came up.

Arthur also had some very bad wounds and required a lot of vet care. When they did bring him to Sweden, he had to be in quarantine for four months, and this also caused complications with him not getting the care he needed. In the end though, they were able to bring Arthur home and get him the medical help he required. Arthur did die in 2020 from a tumor, so Mikael was able to give him a good life for his last 6 years of life.

The movie has a few scenes where it seems like Arthur is going to die, but as in real life, he is able to survive and live with Michael.

Arthur Foundation

Lindnord has created a foundation in Arthur’s name to help stray dogs in other countries. In Ecuador, people could abuse dogs and there wasn’t any punishment but thanks to the Arthur Foundation, they have enacted the Law of Animal Welfare.

This aspect of the real story is interesting to think about because as he talks about in the book, there was some backlash to Mikael, this guy from a very rich country, coming in to another country and getting upset at locals for how they treat dogs and then, setting up a foundation in order to make animal abuse illegal in that country. I am not for animal abuse of course, but it seems like there are other things you could be doing to help the people of Ecuador rather than just tell them how they should treat their animals. I know many of these stray dogs have rabies and disease, so getting the dog situation under control is a help to the people. But again, he is a guy coming from a rich country, and telling people in a not so rich country what they are doing wrong. Maybe if he was someone committed to the people and the country and was moving there to live and trying to improve things from the inside that would be different. But he doesn’t live in Ecuador! He just travels to these countries for his races.

I have also heard of people going to countries where they eat dog, and people go and save the dogs from being food. But this too seems wrong. Who are you to tell another culture what they should or shouldn’t be eating?

There is also a part in the book when someone else is caring for Arthur and the guy is white and fair haired like Mikael, and the guy tells him, “’I think because I am tall and fair, like you, he feels that I must be a good guy and will help him.’ I liked that. I liked the idea that Arthur had a vision of what a good guy looked like, and that guy looked like me.” This line came across as borderline racist.

Book vs Movie

This isn’t a must watch movie, but there are definitely worse ways you could spend 90 minutes. As said, there are some truly suspenseful moments and for the most part I enjoyed the scenes between Wahlberg and the dog. Whereas the book I would not recommend at all, which means when it comes to book vs movie-the movie wins!

Movie pet peeves

Even though the movie wins, I do have some pet peeves I want to mention. First, Wahlberg has the worst beard-it is sparse and scraggly. And this isn’t a beard he grows over the course of the race; this is a beard he had before the race began! It looks so bad. If you can’t grow a full beard, don’t grow one at all! And I know Lindnord has a beard in real life, but either get a fake beard or just forget it. It’s not like Wahlberg looks like the real guy anyway.

In the movie he has a falling out with a teammate named Leo, but to get sponsored they say he needs to get Leo on the team because Leo has a large social media following and in today’s day and age that is valuable. So he gets Leo on the team and at various points, Leo will take photos or videos which she shares to his social. At one point, Michael gets annoyed with Leo recording them, and he asks to see the phone and then throws it into the forest. Like what?? It isn’t like he is just randomly taking photos, the whole reason they wanted him on the team was for his social following, so for him, updating his accounts is part of the job! I get Michael isn’t into that but come on. Social media is the whole reason Leo is there so don’t get mad about him documenting the experience.

We also get a scene after the race when they are going to the hotel to sleep, but Arthur is scared of going in the hotel so Michael sleeps on the street with him. What?? Arthur is not too big to be picked up and carried into the hotel. Come on, feeling like the only option is to sleep on the streets, where Arthur feels the most comfortable, is just ridiculous. And I know I am a woman so that changes things, but there is no way I would do that and I’m pretty sure a lot of men would agree with me. Just carry the dog inside! It is meant to show how much he cares about the dog’s comfort, but geeze, at what cost??