Reviewed by: Matthew Prins
|Featuring:||Kevin Bacon, Diane Lane, Frankie Muniz, Luke Wilson, Daylan Honeycutt|
|Producer:||John Lee Hancock, Broderick Johnson|
How successful “My Dog Skip” is at pulling on your heartstrings—something the film unabashedly tries to do on a regular basis—depends mainly on your reaction to the canine in the title. Many will find Skip funny, charming, and even—as Esme Hoggett describes a certain pig in Babe—“practically human.” And there, for me, lies the problem. There’s a surprisingly difficult premise to swallow that “My Dog Skip” depends on to have a strong emotional resonance: that Skip is as much human as he is dog.
I wasn’t able to accept that premise, unfortunately, and usually accepting animals as near-human comes naturally to me. I have no problem, for example, considering Babe just as human as the Hoggetts, or considering Flounder as human as Ariel. But those animals can talk, and Skip can only emote through his actions, like serving as matchmaker for his 10-year-old owner Willie and the girl Willie has a crush on, or helping Willie prove his worth in a football game, or teaching Willie life lessons that any young boy in 1942 needs to learn, or just being oh-so-cute.
I think part of the my problem with Skip’s humanity comes from the difference between the fancifulness of Skip’s perceptiveness and the naturalism that the rest of the cast portrays. Frankie Muniz (Malcolm in “Malcolm in the Middle”), particularly good, gives Willie a realistic innocence that becomes tempered with realism after certain events teach him that all is not always right in the world. The film’s biggest name is the ubiquitous Kevin Bacon, who plays Willie’s father in a slightly mannered, but compelling performance. The rest of the cast is made up of unknowns and virtual unknowns (Diane Lane, as Willie’s mother, is the closest to being a star) that by and large behave in a realistic manner.
And then we have Skip. I won’t get into specifics on what unrealistic actions Skip does that bother me so much (so I don’t ruin the film for those who attend), but it becomes so much that, for a time, I started focusing more on what was happening outside the frame. “Hmmm,” I thought on one early occasion, “How did those trainers get the dog that plays Skip to jump up on the toilet like that?” And those types of thoughts, which occurred numerous times during the film, stopped whatever momentum “My Dog Skip” had going. If the dog had simply acted more like a dog rather than a perceptive human, or if—and I may be chastised for this idea—Skip were just written out of the film all together, “My Dog Skip” probably would have worked for me on its well-told coming-of-age story. But because Skip was such at odds with the rest of the film (for me, at least), and because the score was so emotionally cloying, telegraphing every important scene, I can’t completely recommend “My Dog Skip”.
“My Dog Skip” is meant as a family movie, and possibly offensive content is kept to a minimum. There’s a bit of language (some spoken by kids), and there are at least two scenes of mild violence that might bother children. But at its heart, the film has a message of friendship and caring that few Christians would be at odds with, and I imagine that my slightly negative reaction toward “My Dog Skip” will be uncommon among Christians. So if you’re looking for a film you can take your children to, and unrealistic behaviors by four-legged mammals tend not to bother you, “My Dog Skip” could be a terrific film for you to watch. I just wish I could enjoy it as much as you probably will.