Movie Review: My Dog Skip
Length: 95 minutes
Release Date: March 3, 2000
Directed by: Jay Russell
Stars: 3.5 out of 5
"My Dog Skip" is a film made to delight animal lovers, children, and grandparents. While it is sentimental, it's also warm and memorable without becoming maudlin or mawkish. The movie is also a tearjerker in the vein of "Old Yeller," so audiences should be prepared with a box of tissue.
Beginning in the summer of 1942, "My Dog Skip" tells the story of Willie Morris (Frankie Muniz), who grew up in Yazoo, Mississippi. When the film starts, Willie is a lonely child who isn't good at playing sports or making friends with other children. He spends time with his next-door neighbor Dink (Luke Wilson), who was a sports star in high school. When Dink leaves to fight in World War II, Willie is alone until his mother (Diane Lane) buys him a Jack Russell puppy for his ninth birthday. Skip becomes Willie's best friend, following him on several adventures and eventually helping him win the attention of the prettiest girl in the neighborhood. Other people in Willie's life change, too. Willie's father (Kevin Bacon) finally recovers from the emotional losses he suffered during the Spanish War. And although Dink returns from World War II in a disillusioned state, he too recovers some of his spirit in time.
Adults watching this film will know that "My Dog Skip" isn't solely about a boy and his dog. It's also about the nostalgia of the World War II era. Although the film does mention the segregation of 1942 south, it doesn't address the very real prejudices and problems that African Americans faced during this time. They'll also recognize that Dink is less of a character and more of a representative of the lost innocence of the soldiers who returned from World War II. Even Willie's father, who was greatly affected while fighting in the Spanish War, miraculously transforms due to the healing powers of a little dog.
Director Jay Russell knows just how to keep "My Dog Skip" from veering into mawkish territory. Although he isn't above showing multiple heartwarming scenes, he also recognizes the difficulties of bullying, war, and loss. While none of these themes are actively explored, they are also not overlooked. Russell's film is thoroughly sentimental, but it is never manipulative. Russell makes the forties Mississippi look wholesome and shows the racial segregation of that area.
Russell and his team assembled a superb cast for the film. Believable child actors are seemingly difficult to find, but Frankie Muniz of "Malcom in the Middle" fame is just right as the innocent, bookish Willie. Diane Lane and Kevin Bacon as Willie's parents are also excellent. Neither of their characters are particularly complex, but they deliver better acting than what is found in many family films. Luke Wilson, who plays the former high school sports star, also delivers an easy charm. Unfortunately, his character seems to exist as a mere prop to demonstrate the difficulties of wartime.