Directed by: Jay Russell
Written by: Gail Gilchriest
Starring: Frankie Muniz, Kevin Bacon, Diane Lane, and Luke Wilson
My Dog Skip (starring talented youngster Frankie Muniz from Fox's
Malcolm in the Middle) is a low-budget gem. This sorely overlooked Warner
Bros. release, directed by Jay Russell and based on the memoir by Willie
Morris, is much more than just a 'dog' movie.
The film will probably remind you of either Simon Birch or The
Mighty with its sweet and touching nature. It's also a coming-of-age
tale that deals with the courage to overcome adversity and the power of
friendship. My Dog Skip, like The Iron
Giant and October Sky, is a movie your whole family can
enjoy together (despite a little bit of violence and some mild language)
even if you don't own or care to own a dog. Sure, this simple story is
not perfect and fairly unoriginal, but I bet that after it's over you'll
have a half-empty box of tissues and a grin a mile long.
We are transported back to Willie's childhood in Yazoo, Mississippi,
during the summer of 1942, a critical period in his life which helped
mold him into the Rhodes scholar and literary figure that he became in
his lifetime. You see, Willie's your shy type. He'd rather pick up a hardcover
instead of a Louisville slugger and isn't known as Mr. Popularity. His
birthday parties are usually populated by those who walk with canes and
employ dentures instead of braces. Usually the poor, unsuspecting target
of the neighborhood's most abrasive youngsters, Willie really only has
one person that he can truly call a buddy: neighbor Dink Jenkins (nice
turn by Luke Wilson in a small role), a celebrated high school jock star
and an overall sweet guy who befriends the lonesome adolescent. Dink promises
to teach his neighbor the tricks in throwing a good curve ball, but, unfortunately,
has to delay his promise. He's been called away to do his patriotic duty
and serve his country in WW2 leaving Willie more distraught than ever.
With our hero down in the dumps, his devoted mother (played by Diane
Lane) decides to take some action. She feels that her son needs a loving
friend, who, in turn, can teach him about companionship and responsibility.
This friend that we're talking about is Skip (played by a total of 6 Jack
Russell terriers), a scene-stealing doggie who turns out to be
exactly what was needed to get Willie out of his shell. His strong-willed
but caring father (Kevin Bacon) doesn't see eye-to-eye with his life partner
on this one however. A war veteran who lost a leg - and a piece of his
soul - in the Spanish Civil War, he doesn't think that a dog is a good
idea and feels that his son might not react well someday when he passes
away. With time, however, even dad can see that cute, little Skip was
the best thing that could've ever happened to his boy.
We're not talking about any ordinary, run-of-the-mill type buddy here.
This four-legged friend is part-matchmaker, part-campaign manager, and
overall celebrity. He's gotten to know not only every inch of town, but
everyone in it as well. You'll love to see him take his daily walk to
the local butcher shop for his usual hit of bologna. Skip helps get Willie
active and involved in things and with people that he usually kept away
from. All of a sudden, people want to get to know him and be his friend
(including the bullies that teased him constantly). Skip even helps Willie
catch the eye of one of the prettiest and sweetest girls in school. Not
only does Skip help Willie's blossoming confidence and maturity, but helps
teach the young man a few things when it comes to forgiveness and compassion
when things in life get a little difficulty to bear.
Dink's uncelebrated return to home in shame might seem a little bit
over-the-top, and I question the insertion of a couple of good-for-nothing
bad guys (who were probably added to spice things up, but they weren't
really necessary for this story). But the fine acting (particularly from
the film's young lead) and a sweet, simple story of friendship make this
movie easy to relate to. The film doesn't delve too deeply into too many
issues, but that's ok - this is not a probing examination of Willie's
childhood, but a sweet look back down memory lane and that's how we want
Luke Wilson (Blue Streak, Dog Park) turns in yet another
likeable piece of work, while Diane Lane and Kevin Bacon continue to deliver
the quality work that we've come to expect from them both. The real surprise
and true star (besides Moose's work as the title character Skip) of the
film is Frankie Muniz, who gives us a tender performance as a young man
who needs a little help fitting in and learns some valuable life lessons
after he does become accepted. The youngster has not only a good deal
of charm (as demonstrated on his weekly television show), but talent as
well and should be sticking around for quite a while.
My Dog Skip works and is recommended because not only can everyone in
your family put themselves in Willie's shoes, but they will also easily
find themselves rooting for both Willie and Skip and enjoying an abundance
of smiles, laughs, and tears. In short, a good time to be had by all.
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