Directed by: Kevin Brodie
Written by: Kevin Brodie and Robert Singer
Starring: Jesse James, Jeremy James Kissner, Jack Warden, Cheryl Ladd, Madylin
Sweeten, Farren Monet, and Jon Voight
This is not your typical "boy and his dog" movie. The Bouvier, named
Patrasche, that is featured in the film is both cute to look at and adorable
in nature, besides being a real trooper with regards to surviving, but
this satisfying film is really not about him - it's about the things that
matter most: love, compassion, forgiveness, and honor. Some viewers may
see this as a "kiddie flick" only, but it's really a refreshing tale that
the whole family can appreciate. Others may not buy into its sweet, good-natured
intentions, but if you're looking for a good "PAX TV" type movie, you'll
have a hard time resisting its sentimental charms. Overall, the film has
some important things to say, and should touch your heart in a good way
(as it did me) in delivering its message.
Director Kevin Brodie's adaptation of A Dog of Flanders is the
latest version of the classic child's story that has hit the silver screen.
The film centers on the trials and tribulations of an orphan boy named
Nello (played by Jesse James, and then by Jeremy James Kissner), who tries
very hard to survive and push on in the face of poverty with the help
of his loving canine companion.
This is a 19th century tale set in a small village in Flanders, Belgium.
Nello's mother has just passed away, leaving the spunky youngster in the
care of his loving grandfather Jehan (Jack Warden). The boy helps his
grandpa with whatever work and chores that he can including delivering
milk. He spends the little time left over painting - honing the artistic
skills that he's been blessed with. The youngster even has a willing model
to sketch - his best friend Aloise (played by Madylin Sweeten, and Farren
Monet), who encourages him to pursue his dreams - and an idol to help
him daydream: 17th century master painter Peter Paul Rubens.
Nello has talent and the encouragement, but what he really wants is
a mentor, and this comes in the form of renowned local artist Michel Le
Grand (Jon Voight), who helps push the youngster in the right direction.
Nello now has the courage to enter a local art competition for aspiring
Picassos and Monets. The grand prize would not only be more money than
he's ever dreamed of, but the winner would also be on the receiving end
of a prized formal education. Nello desperately needs this, since everything
that can go wrong for the youngster does. Jehan suddenly passes away,
leaving the boy desperately trying to take care of the costly expenses
of his grandfather's funeral, while somehow figuring out a way to keep
a roof over his head. In addition, since Nello has no established reputation
(other than being poor), he becomes an easy target of blame and speculation.
This youngster faces obstacle after obstacle in trying to seek out the
truth and a better life for himself, but his strong beliefs and undeniable
values keep him striving until he reaches his goals.
If you like those persevere-at-all-costs stories, than this movie is
for you. This poor boy has everything thrown at him, but he still finds
a way to stay positive and levelheaded. All he's doing is following his
dreams, and you have to admire him for that. Don't get me wrong, Brodie's
film is definitely a downer throughout, and not everyone will appreciate
the film's feel-good ending, but even though this key component seems
out of place, you can argue that its inclusion is appropriate and appreciated
given the overall down beat nature of the picture.
The director does a good job of setting the tone and mood of the film,
and the sets and costumes give us an authentic feel for the times, while
Richard Friedman's music hits all the right notes. Jesse James and Jeremy
James Kinner also do a solid job of combining to play the film's optimistic
but tormented headliner.
The film might be a little slow-moving at times and a little sappy,
but you'll feel for this boy, wanting and pleading for him to overcome
his never-ending hardships. You will desperately root for him to be accepted
and seen for what he really is: a hardworking, talented, and sweet young
man who only wants the best for everyone instead of the crook and arsonist
that some make him out to be. Will he overcome? Will he still be able
to be friends with the girl of his dreams? Things don't look good for
our hero, but you'll care enough to hang around to get some answers, pulling
passionately for him in the process.
A Dog of Flanders is a simple tale. It's not complicated to understand
in any way, and one that will make you feel good (even if it's for just
a little while). It's also a refreshing alternative to the preposterous
number of blockbusters that we're inundated with and accustomed to. It
may not be in the same league of The Iron Giant, or October
Sky, but with its rewarding message, it has enough to satisfy and
is worth a peek.