MY DOG SKIP (2000) ****1/2 movie review by COOP

Posted on May 14th, 2008
Posted on May 14th, 2008

Everyone remembers their childhood dogs and the impact they’ve had on their life. Perhaps one dog in particular sticks out in your mind… A special dog that was there for you in the toughest or best years of your life. That is what this screen adaptation of Willie Morris’ “My Dog Skip” conveys in a fun, nostalgic and heartbreaking kind of way. Morris, recounts the autobiographical memoir of his childhood in Yazoo City, Mississippi and the four-legged friend that accompanied him on his journey into manhood.

Set in the backdrop of the war-torn world of the 1940’s, young Willie (Frankie Muniz) is on the verge of his ninth birthday. His only real friend, neighbor and high school sports hero, Dink Jenkins (Luke Wilson) leaves to go off and fight in WWII, leaving Willie feeling alone in the world. To lift Willie’s spirits, his mother (Diane Lane) decides to defy the wishes of his stern father (Kevin Bacon) and buy Willie a Jack Russell terrier puppy. The unusually smart and charismatic dog, Skip, quickly becomes a local institution and helps Willie gain respect, make friends and even win over his first girlfriend.

There are a few subplots, that help the story along nicely. One involves Dink Jenkins who leaves town a hero and returns from the war in disgrace and a drunk after going AWOL in battle. Another involves Willie’s father, a shell-shocked, Spanish Civil War veteran, who overprotects and underestimates his bookish son. It’s through Willie’s relationship to Skip that inspires these too men heal their wounds. One subplot that didn’t seem to hold as much water is one involving two moonshine dealers who put Willie and Skip’s lives in danger on more than one occasion. This appeared to be a fictional device similar to something out of Huckleberry Finn and seemed a bit cartoonish, but it’s a minor detail in what turned out to be a simple, yet moving story.

The young Morris is outstandingly played by Frankie Muniz, now a household name due to his success on TV’s “Malcolm in the Middle.” His acting is very mature and shows shades of emotions very effectively. Both Kevin Bacon and Diane Lane do decent jobs of portraying caring and concerned parents. Luke Wilson exceeds his normal comedy boundaries and pulls off the disgraced town hero with surprising effectiveness. However it’s the dog that steals the show… or should I say dogs. “Moose” (Eddie from TV’s Frasier) and his son “Enzo” play the older and younger Skip respectively. Look for them in more movies, commercials and TV shows to come. I guarantee you’ll see them.

Director/Executive Producer Jay Russell pulls off an impressive effort being that this is only his second feature film. His first effort was the little-seen, independent film “End of the Line” in which he also worked with Kevin Bacon. Russell, a native of Little Rock, Arkansas, insisted on shooting “Skip” entirely in Mississippi. He and his producers chose the town of Canton, which is also where the screen adaptation of John Grisham’s “A Time To Kill.” The spectacular photography of the town and the surrounding rural areas resulted in some of the most colorful and verdant footage of the state I have ever seen.

The message of this film is very clear and invokes plenty of nostalgia to anyone who can identify growing up in a rural town. It’s about passing into adulthood, remembering old friends long gone, and the desire to remember or relive happy moments in our lives that may be fading from our memory. Morris is certainly a master at preserving his own memories by writing it down for others to enjoy. I truly believe that this story is his gift, not only to the people of Mississippi, but to all who want to remember their past, and the friends they left behind.

This movie is PG, a rating which might run off some of the older crowd, but it’s truly a movie for everyone. Most films geared for children these days depend on lame, pop-culture references and gas-passing jokes in a patronizing attempt to entertain the younger masses. This movie rises above all of that to become one of the most watchable non-Disney film for children since 1993’s “Searching for Bobby Fischer.” Your date might resist going, but try to talk them into it. They won’t regret it and neither will you.

Scale of 1-5:
4 ½

Most refreshing aspect of the movie:

The entire production was shot so effectively that it seemed that it genuinely conveyed feeling of growing up in rural Mississippi. The attention to detail and the accuracy of the time period are phenomenal. I felt completely immersed in this world and felt the full effect of this moving story. Even the southern accents were much better than average.

Biggest gripe:
Kevin Bacon and Diane Lane’s characters were strong, but didn’t get enough screentime to fully develop. Willie’s friendship with a young black boy was never given a chance to develop either, probably in an effort by the filmmakers to avoid focusing on the segregation issues of the time period. The issue is addressed, but I feel that the African-American characters should have had bigger, more substantial parts.

Biggest surprise:
The character of “Skip” and the dogs that played him. They were so likeable and effective in this film that the personality of Skip was the most developed of all the characters. I congratulate the animal trainers in this film for teaching these dogs to do seemingly impossible feats.

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