Few things warm the heart more than hearing a young boy squeal, "It's Lassie! She's come home!" The sweet collie that just couldn't stay away is back on the big screen, this time back in her original Yorkshire home.

This latest UK-made Lassie sidesteps most of the camp of earlier versions, some of which stretched the fable amazingly thin. (In 1967's Lassie — Flight of the Cougar, the courageous dog befriends a young family of cougars, which she defends against angry humans. Go Lassie!)

If your familiarity with the Lassie tale begins and ends with the Americanized "Timmy's in the well" TV series, you may find this version of the heroic pooch's tale more palatable. While not dead-on accurate, this is more true to Eric Knight's original Lassie story from the 1938 Saturday Evening Post and his subsequent novel of the same name.

Director and screenwriter Charles Sturridge has assembled a "serious" cast of British heavyweight actors — including Samantha Morton, John Lynch and Peter O'Toole.

When the tale begins, Lassie is living with the Carracloughs, a coal-mining family who've fallen on rough times. When a rich duke (O'Toole) offers to buy their beloved dog, young Joe (Jonathan Mason) protests, but Mum (Morton) and Dad (Lynch) have no choice. Lassie doesn't want to leave either, and, once in her new home, she's treated cruelly by the duke's help. She eventually gets shipped off to Scotland, but escapes to find her way home to Joe and his family.

As much as Sturridge tries to shake some of the Hollywood, feel-good dust from his boots and make this a grittier Lassie steeped in realism, he can't.

Lassie is Lassie. Whether with the Martin family in the United States, watching over cougars on a mountainside, or with the Carracloughs in Yorkshire, Lassie premises rarely waiver. They all boil down to one dog that's there when you need her. Wherever there's trouble, Lassie's there on the double, brave, loyal and true.

Sturridge doesn't shy from showing the Carracloughs' poverty, the dust and grime of coal mining and the harsh realities of animals on the street. Lassie gets physically beaten by bandits and manhandled by pound workers. Her white collar of fur turns dingy grey, and she crawls back to the Carracloughs near death.

When Lassie finds Joe and he squeezes her tight, however, it might as well be Timmy after the fateful well incident. A Lassie reunion is about as sweet as it gets; thankfully Sturridge and company resist trying to make it any sweeter.

Too bad few kids are likely to see this movie. It's more Old Yeller than Madagascar, and there's not much room in Hollywood anymore for a classic, live-action, sincere kiddie flick. With no CG Lassies doing tae kwon do or rapping and break dancing, and no potential tie-ins to burger meals, it's likely this movie won't have much bark or bite.


Showing at AMC Star John R 15 (32289 John R. Rd., Madison Heights; 248-585-2070), AMC Livonia 20 (19500 Haggerty Rd., Livonia; 734-542-9909) and the AMC Star Great Lakes 25 (4300 Baldwin Rd., Auburn Hills; 248-454-0314).

Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

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