I'm not sure the world needs another movie about a boy and his dog; a girl and her dog would be another matter entirely. But My Dog Skip, which is loosely based on a 1995 memoir by Southern writer Willie Morris, takes us back to a mythical time when a dog could save a boy's life--not by running for help, à la Lassie, but simply by being there, smoothing over the rough spots of one's day. Before Skip shows up, 8-year-old Willie (played by Frankie Muniz of "Malcolm in the Middle") is a friendless wimp who sucks at sports. After Skip, he's...well, he's an All-American boy. Director Jay Russell does a beautiful job of evoking the time and place--Yazoo, Miss., during the Second World War. Let me put that another way: Russell does a beautiful job of evoking the dozens of Saturday Evening Post covers that Norman Rockwell turned out during the war. More than anything, I was struck by how...clean everybody seemed, with the exceptions of Big Boy, Henjie and Spit, three local bullies who are finally won over by Skip's ebullient charm. A Jack Russell terrier, the movie's Skip proves that you can teach a new dog old tricks; he's a real cutie.
And Muniz is quite impressive as Willie. He has those amazingly transparent eyes, which filled with tears often enough that mine started filling up too. Russell lays it on pretty thick in places, as if we weren't willing to meet him halfway when it comes to sentimentalizing our pets. But he can also have a nice, gentle touch, especially in scenes involving only the children. I loved it when Willie brings out some "Kraut stuff" he got through his dad, and its authenticity is ruthlessly debated by the boys. Rockwell could have gotten a hell of a painting out of that.