[box cover]

My Dog Skip

Warner Home Video

Starring Frankie Muniz, Kevin Bacon, and Diane Lane

Written by Willie Morris
Directed by Jay Russell

Back to Review Index

Back to Quick Reviews

My Dog Skip begins with soaring, sentimental music as the camera lovingly caresses an old manual typewriter and the momentos of a long-ago childhood: a baseball glove, a crude slingshot, a milk bottle filled with marbles, and a yellowing photo of a group of kids in their team uniforms. When the syrupy voice of Harry Connick Jr. tells us, "Memory is a funny thing ..." we know immediately that we've signed on for a trip down some writer's memory lane, burnished and honed through time to a fine froth of wistful nostalgia. In this case it's author Willie Morris, on whose 1995 memoir the film is based.

At the risk of courting a cliché, there are two kinds of people in the world — those who enjoy having their heartstrings forcibly tugged and those who don't. It may come as no surprise to learn that I happen to fall into the latter camp. Now, don't get me wrong — I'm not made of stone. The Iron Giant made me weep like Tammy Faye Baker; certain passages of The Velveteen Rabbit choke me up every time I read them. Hell, I once wept while watching a McDonald's commercial — remember the one with the little old man who sits down to eat all by himself, then spies this foxy senior lady and they share a lovely meal of Big Macs together? I swear, I cried my eyes out (I think I was under the influence of major PMS that day, but it still counts).

No, what I detest is the deliberate, cold-blooded manipulation of my emotions. Not that it's necessarily ineffective — I still sobbed for poor little E.T., even as I sat there resenting the hell out of Steven Spielberg for playing puppet-master with my tear ducts. But usually it just makes me mad — I was one of the small-but-vocal minority who absolutely despised that sappy saccharine-fest Forrest Gump for the ham-handed way it demanded my sentiment. Not only didn't it warm my heart, Gump's self-consciously folksy play for my warm, gooey center pissed me off so much that I'm still angry thinking about it.

My Dog Skip dwells comfortably in this territory, a film that works overtime to batter the audience's soft nether regions. Like Gump and a hundred other gooey Hallmarkesque offerings, it's set in the South — this time it's Yazoo, Mississippi in 1942. Frankie Muniz (of TV's Malcolm in the Middle ) plays Willie, a slight, nerdy, lonely boy who desperately needs a friend. When his next-door-neighbor-cum-hero-figure Dink Jenkins goes off to fight the Nazis and his birthday is a flop because he has no friends to invite to his party, Willie's mom (Diane Lane) buys him a friend — it's Moose, the star of Frasier ! Only in this movie he's called Skip, and he's so smart he's practically psychic. Willie's dad (Kevin Bacon) is bitter and withdrawn because he lost his leg in the Spanish-American War. He tries to take the dog away but fails when Mom takes Dad's cigar and puffs on it a few times while overruling the decision (a Freudian image that is about as subtle as everything else in this movie).

Over the course of the next hour-and-a-half, Skip helps Willie earn friends, win the prettiest girl in school, and warm his father's cold heart. At least I think it was Skip that caused the miraculous change in Dad's attitude; the film really doesn't make it clear why he softens. The film doesn't bother to make a lot of things clear, really — acknowledging segregation but not addressing it, touching on the horror of war but not exploring it, flirting with the concept of death but never confronting it. Dink returns from the war a changed man, drinking and avoiding the gossiping townsfolk who call him a coward. "It's not the dyin' that's scary ... it's the killin'," he tells Willie. And that's as deep as it gets. On a walk with his father in the woods, Willie sees a deer shot by hunters and cries. The audience is supposed to be saddened by this too, but it comes so suddenly and is so disconnected from anything else in the film as to render it meaningless.

A Scooby Doo-like and ultimately pointless subplot about moonshiners storing their whiskey in a cemetery crypt leads to one of the most hackneyed — and predictable — devices used in films of this oeuvre, the family vigil in the vet's office. Willie sleeps next to Skip's injured form and begs him, "Please Skip, don't die ... I'll never have another friend like you EVER" while the music earnestly coerces us to cry along with him. Of course, Skip makes it just fine, opening his eyes at daybreak and licking Willie's face. It has to be that way, of course. Filmmakers learned a valuable lesson from Turner and Hooch — don't ever, ever kill the mutt.

Muniz is a fine young actor and throws himself fully into his role as Young Gump with a Dog, but it just doesn't help. Diane Lane and Kevin Bacon are grossly overqualified for their small roles as Willie's parents, as is Clint Howard as one of the moonshiners. At the end of the day, My Dog Skip is the perfect movie for Gump lovers and people who buy those American Greetings cards with the Rod McKuen poems overlaying watercolor mountain silhouettes. For those of us who blanche at formulaic campaigns of heart-grasping treacle, it's merely tedious and irritating.

Very good quality transfer with Dolby Digital 5.1. audio. Two commentary tracks are offered, one by director Jay Russell and one by Frankie Muniz and animal trainer Mathilde DeCagney. A track of deleted scenes includes the inevitable comedy of the dog peeing inappropriately and an all but incomprehensible line garbled by Winston Groom, author of Forrest Gump, who is — believe it or not! — a very good friend of author Willie Morris, according to the director's comments.

— Dawn Taylor

Back to Review Index

Back to Quick Reviews

Back to Main Page

© 2000, The DVD Journal