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Review by Jay Rittenberg

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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.

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