My Dog Skip

Good family films are often hard to come by. When truly worthy films that both parents and children can enjoy arrive, they are usually ignored (like Iron Giant or A Little Princess). Instead, flimsier films that rely on toys and fast food tie-ins. Iron Giant is a great example. Released in 1999, Iron Giant died quickly at the theater, although it garnered stellar reviews. This contrasts with Inspector Gadget, a widely panned film that flourished at the box office. My Dog Skip is another wonderful family movie that may not survive too long if its audience doesn't emerge. Warner Bros. is releasing My Dog Skip in the wake of Stuart Little, another so called 'family' film that is earning much more money than it deserves.

My Dog Skip is based on Willie Morris' memoirs of growing up in Yazoo, Mississippi amidst the harsher realities of World War II. Willie (Frankie Muniz, Lost and Found, FOX's Malcom in the Middle) is the kid who is always picked last for sports. He is small for his age (eight) and has no friends. Instead of playing outside, he prefers to stay indoors and read. He is also an only child to his parents Jack (Kevin Bacon, Stir of Echoes, Wild Things) and Ellen (Diane Lane, A Walk on the Moon, The Perfect Storm). For his birthday, Ellen gives him a Jack Russell terrier, whom Willie names Skip. Skip becomes Willie's constant companion, and through Skip, Willie begins to learn how to make friends with other people.

The reason My Dog Skip is such a good movie is that it does not pander to children. Kids are inherently smarter than they usually act, and writer Gail Gilchreist recognizes this. Her script is easily enjoyable by both parents and children. On the surface, Willie's childhood is innocent and carefree aside from his initial problems. He soon is playing with other kids and learning about girls. Underneath, more subtle subplots that demonstrate how rich the story is. One of Willie's few friends is his neighbor, Dink Jenkins (Luke Wilson, Dog Park, Blue Streak). Dink is the big brother Willie never had. He is the high school football star adored by everyone. Before he leaves for war, he is confident and eager to do his part for his country. He returns a changed person, something Willie does not understand. Wilson is an amusing actor, and it's good seeing him in a more serious role.

Bacon and Lane give excellent performances as Willie's parents. Bacon gives a strong, nuanced performance as Willie's somber father. Lane gives a good performance, as she always does, which again prompts the question as to why her profile in Hollywood isn't higher. Although the film does not span a great deal of time, Skip becomes the catalyst that allows Willie's maturity to grow by leaps and bounds. Director Jay Russell manages to keep the level of emotion intensely high without letting it become melodramatic. All of the joys and pains of childhood are in the movie. In particular, the last twenty minutes of My Dog Skip are absolutely heartbreaking, guaranteed to bring anyone to tears. Here's hoping that My Dog Skip gets all of the attention it truly deserves.

Mongoose Rates It: Really Good.
1 hour, 35 minutes, Rated PG for some violent content and mild language.

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