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Review by Jay Rittenberg

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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 it.

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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