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If you wanted to make an inexpensive family film featuring dancing and singing kids, where would you go? New York? Hollywood? How about Salt Lake City?

Utah? That's exactly what Hollywood producer and "We Are The World" mastermind Ken Kragen might have thought had he not worked with Utah native and Academy Award winning director Keith Merrill for more than 40 years. So when it came time to create the second in a series of films based on his daughter Emma's beloved book, "The 12 Dogs of Christmas," Kragen already knew Utah was where it had to be made.

After a difficult 2005 shoot of the first in the "12 Dogs" series in Maine, it took little convincing from his producing partner, Merrill, and the Utah film commission's Marshall Moore. Utah is known for it's excellent incentives to film makers, but it was actually 'family' that made Utah a must.

"With a solid but modest budget, Ken and I knew we needed to call on family to pull it off." Merrill told Meridian Magazine earlier this year. "Utah was closer for family, and family would be a huge factor in making the movie and making it great."

Merrill's daughter Kieri Merrill Coombs choreographed the many dance numbers and Merrill's niece-by-marriage, Mindy Smoot Robbins, provided the child performers from her American Fork based studio On Broadway Academy, not to mention that every one of Merrill's 23 grand children appeared in the film's finale!

The original 12 Dogs of Christmas movie went directly to DVD and has consequently sold more than 1.2 million copies. Encouraged by the success of the previous film, Sony Pictures signed on quickly to distribute 12 Dogs of Christmas: The Great Puppy Rescue, which was released direct to DVD on October 9th of this year.

In the original 12 Dogs of Christmas, Emma O'Conner (Jordan-Clair Green in the first film, Danielle Chuchran in the second) and Mikey Stevens (Adam Hicks in the first, Skyler Holman in the second) save Mikey's family pet orphanage by putting on a musical satire of The 12 Days of Christmas using dogs in place of the Christmas gifts and rename it The 12 Dogs of Christmas. Five years later the kids are high schoolers but Mikey's mom has died, leaving Mikey to figure out how to keep the bank from foreclosing on the family farm and yes, the dog orphanage, once again. Emma and Mikey figure if it worked before, why not stage the musical again?

Like Mikey and Emma's play in the film, 12 Dogs of Christmas: The Great Puppy Rescue has the homemade, heartfelt quality of a play put on by the kids in the barn for friends, family and neighbors. The script is quaint and the acting adequate, but TC Christensen's (17 Miracles) excellent cinematography and the Academy Award Winning Merrill's (The American Cowboy) hand as director are evident as they turn out a heartwarming, family friendly film perfect for a holiday movie night with the kids.

Saturday night Kragen and Merrill bring together some of the cast of 12 Dogs of Christmas: The Great Puppy Rescue once again for the big screen premier and a 15-minute live song-and-dance performance of 12 Dogs of Christmas, the Christmas play produced by Emma and Mikey in both movies.

Saturday is actually the second night of the big screen premier and live stage spectacular. Friday night's performance was well attended by families and kids who were clearly fans of the series. Chuchran and Holman MC'd the event and both Merrill and Kragen were on hand to discuss the film. This is a great event for families looking for an opportunity to celebrate the Christmas season and friends of Utah filmmaking alike.

The final night of 12 Dogs of Christmas: Great Puppy Rescue, Screen and Live Stage Spectacular is at Kingsbury Hall in Salt Lake City, December 8 at 7:30pm.

Tickets are available at www.kingtix.com or by calling 801-581-7100.

Tickets are $10-$25. A family package is also available for a 20% discount on select seats for families of 6 to 10 people. Ticket proceeds go to benefit the Utah Animal Adoption Center.

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