My Dog Skip

My Dog Skip (U)

AS a child I grew up listening to my father’s extensive collection of country and western music, primarily the songs of Johnny Cash and Jim Reeves.

One of Reeves’s stayed in my mind for years – Old Tige, a grown man’s reminiscences of his canine best pal. For years I could never listen to that song – a poem, really, since Reeves spoke it – without getting a lump in my throat. Shucks, call me sentimental.

I felt the same when watching My Dog Skip, a lovely, heartwarming tale of one man’s memories of his life during the war years in the American mid-west and his adventures with his faithful mutt.

My Dog Skip, adapted from the classic best-seller by Willie Morris, almost belongs to another age, like the Disney classics of yore. It certainly celebrates a lost, golden era of neighbourliness, manners and courtesy which has all but vanished, and it does it without a trace of cynicism or insincerity.

In 1942 young Willie (Frankie Muniz) is growing up in Yazoo, Mississippi. A loner, with few friends, his life revolves around his parents, the open-minded, kind mother (Diane Lane) and his gruff, disabled father (the marvellous Kevin Bacon), a veteran of the Spanish Civil War who lost his leg in combat against Franco’s Fascists.

When his mother buys him a dog, his over-protective father rules against it. “Dogs are heartbreakers. They only bring tears”, he says, alluding to dogs’ short lifespans and the love they inspire in children.

But gruff old dad is won over, and Willie and the Jack Russell terrier, Skip, become inseparable.

Their adventures take them through a period of bullying, a relationship with the town sports hero who becomes a pariah when he returns from war service a suspected coward, and a run-in with bootleggers who provide the film with its one real slice of drama.

But this is not a film about thrills. Instead, it is a thoughtful consideration on a way of life now gone forever, and a character study of Forties Americans and the manner in which they behaved towards each other.

At times it is twee, at times hackneyed beyond belief. Yet, if Morris’s book is to be believed, it all happened. It’s a family tale straight out of The Waltons, with all the attendant characters, yet one which is treated seriously, and played with sincerity.

My Dog Skip will either have you spewing into your popcorn or dissolving into floods of tears. For any boy who has ever owned a dog, loved it, and lost it, this will resonate and bring back those halcyon days of fun and laughter. I bought into it completely, both as a superb coming-of-age drama and a fabulous tearjerker with a star trio: Muniz and the dog, a winning double performance from canine stars Enzo and Moose.

Wonderful, wonderful stuff.

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