Most people don't realize that Erik Knight's novel 1938 novel Lassie took place in England.  But the setting doesn't really matter; Lassie endures the test of time because of its emotional story that still resonates today.  It serves as the model for other children's stories like My Dog Skip or Saving Shiloh.  And the nice part about this new Lassie movie is that it is surprisingly good.  Writer/director Charles Sturbridge (Fairy Tale:  A True Story, A Foreign Field) knows what works in movies like this, and that is plenty of shots of the beautiful collie, meaningful characters, and not pandering to the children in his audience.

Lassie is good because it takes the subject material seriously.  Like Nanny McPhee, another recent family movie, actors obviously saw the quality and went in droves for small parts in Lassie.  Peter O'Toole heads a cast that includes Samantha Morton, Edward Fox, Peter Dinklage, and Kelly MacDonald.  The stellar acting reinforces the strong material, making for a Lassie adaptation chock full of heart and emotion.

Lassie belongs to young Joe Carraclough (Jonathan Mason).  Joe is a bit on the scrawny side, and doesn't have many friends.  Lassie is there every day, waiting outside the schoolyard in the afternoons so she can accompany Joe on the way home.  Times are hard, and Joe's father Sam (John Lynch, Conspiracy of Silence, Evelyn) lost his job and is looking for another one.  Reluctantly, Sam and Joe's mother Sarah (Morton, The Libertine, Enduring Love) sell Lassie to the Duke (O'Toole, Troy, Bright Young Things), who notices that his young granddaughter Priscilla (Hester Odgers) takes a liking to the dog.

This is devastating for Joe, who loses his only friend.  Priscilla loves her new dog, but realizes that Lassie is not happy, just as she isn't.  Lassie continally escapes, making her way back to Joe, much to the consternation of Sam.  The Duke moves to Scotland for holiday, and Lassie escapes, which means he must endure a huge journey if he is to make it home.  Any guesses as to whether or not she makes it?  Sturbridge shows a healthy dose of Lassie overcoming all sorts of obstacles interspersed with shots of the cute Mason moping.  Nearly everybody has a vested emotional interest in Lassie, so their sadness at her disappearance feels genuine.  And O'Toole's crusty performance is icing on the cake.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 40 minutes, Rated PG for some mild violent content and language.

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