My Dog Skip is as sprightly and lively as the Jack Russell terrier who enters the life of Willie Morris (Frankie Muniz) on his 9th birthday.
It’s 1942 in Yazoo City, Mississippi, and Willie is a desperately shy outcast, a runt and bookworm scorned by his peers, the kind of boys who value the sports prowess of his neighbor and only friend, Dink (Luke Wilson), who’s leaving with the town’s other young men to do battle with Hitler. The only child of a stern father (Kevin Bacon) and a vivacious mother (Diane Lane), Willie is surrounded by concerned adults who are pained by his alienation from other kids.
Things change with the arrival of Skip, who instantly becomes the focal point of Willie’s existence. No pampered pet, Skip forges a path for Willie to the outside world, which suddenly seems less frightening with the terrier at his side. With alert, darting eyes and a mischievous manner, Skip seems to view life as a constant adventure, while his gregarious and helpful disposition wins the dog numerous admirers in Yazoo.
Director Jay Russell (End of the Line) provides Skip with a distinct personality without anthropomorphizing him, and the screenplay by Gail Gilchriest beautifully showcases this boy-and-his-dog tale without turning it into sappy treacle.
Based on the memoirs of author and former Harper’s editor Willie Morris, this is a memory film with the usual clichés: a syrupy musical score that swells at pivotal emotional moments; and narration from a grown-up Willie who proceeds to overexplain the significance of childhood events from an adult perspective. But neither of these aspects diminishes the lovely, engaging My Dog Skip. There’s a genuine joy and good-hearted humor that’s missing in many family films, and the performances are uniformly superb, particularly Muniz (the impish star of the twisted family sitcom, "Malcolm in the Middle"), who portrays a genuine kid, not an overly precocious tyke.
Willie is a smart boy who needs some help to break out of his isolation and see the world from a larger perspective. That guidance comes in the form of a little dog who makes a big impact.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at [email protected].