April 2, 2020

My Dog Skip (2000)
Grade: 59/100

Director: Jay Russell
Stars: Frankie Muniz, Luke Wilson, Kevin Bacon

What it's about. Based on the memoir by Willie Morris. Morris, as a grade-schooler, is the lead character in this family drama, set in the small town of Yazoo, Mississippi during World War II.

Willie (Frankie Muniz) is an only child, the son of beautiful brunette Diane Lane and gimpy Kevin Bacon, who lost a leg in the Spanish Civil War. Why an American from Mississippi was fighting there at the time Willie was a toddler is never explained; the U.S. did not sent forces there.

Willie is somewhat small for his age, and is average at best in sports. He is shy, and has no friends in school. He is good friends with next door neighbor Dink (Luke Wilson), the best baseball player in town. Nice-guy Dink is drafted by Uncle Sam and leaves town.

Life improves for Willie when he is given a puppy dog, a Jack Russell terrier named Skip. Because it is a movie, in short order Willie through Skip befriends the prettiest girl in school, Rivers (Caitlin Wachs), and three rascal children (Bradley Coryell, Daylan Honeycutt, Cody Linley).

With his new friends, Willie has various adventures, including a midnight encounter in a cemetery with threatening bootleggers (Peter Crombie, Clint Howard). Dink is discharged and returns home, disgraced by cowardice on the battlefield. But he shows he has courage, after all, when the confronts the bootleggers.

How others will see it. My Dog Skip was a fairly low budget movie despite the presence of moviestars Kevin Bacon, Diane Lane, Luke Wilson, and narrator Harry Connick Jr. Given its modest production, the movie was a commercial success. It won a smattering of awards and nominations from various minor festivals.

Today at imdb.com, it has a middling 18K user votes and a respectable user rating of 7.0 out of 10. It fares best among women over 45 (7.4) and scores lowest with men under age 45 (6.7). Dog lovers regard the movie as a tearjerker, because Skip grows old and dies while Willie is at college. Your mileage may vary.

My Dog Skip is a family movie that the parents will likely enjoy more than their children. There is little here that parents will find objectionable, or that children will find memorable. Certainly, dog lovers are likely to enjoy the movie.

How I felt about it. Director Jay Russell does a fairly good job given the burden of Gail Gilchriest's screenplay. The child actors are adorable, and perform well for their ages. There is an amusing scene in which Willie takes Skip to a military recruiter (Jordan Williams), and volunteers his dog for the Army's canine forces.

Overall, though, the movie seemed better to me than it should have been, probably due to the charm of the children and the star power of three adult leads. It is apparently eternally Fall in Yazoo, Mississippi, since the seasons never change. The scenes with the bootleggers in the cemetery are unconvincing, as is the relationship between Willie and Rivers. Willie's friendship with a black boy (Nathaniel Lee Jr.) would appear unlikely in the segregated South.

A real life Dink would lie about his reasons for discharge from the military, and no one in Yazoo would be any wiser. And, yes, it is difficult to believe that Willie's dad lost his leg fighting in the Spanish Civil War. Hopefully for the Republicans instead of the Nationalists.