There's nothing quite like the story of a boy and his dog to pull on the heartstrings. Many such stories are too syrupy sentimental to resonate, but My Dog Skip, with its strong central performance from Frankie Muniz, mostly avoids the Lifetime hokum. Based on an autobiographical novel by Willie Morris, My Dog Skip is a satisfying drama for all ages that explores the challenges of growing up.
Nine-year-old Willie Morris (Muniz) is the runt of his class and a constant target of neighborhood bullies. Willie's only friend is Dink Jenkins, his small town's high school football hero, who gets drafted and leaves for the war. Against the wishes of his gruff father (Kevin Bacon), Willie's mother (Diane Lane) surprises him with a Jack Russell Terrier puppy for companionship. Willie names the dog Skip, and the intelligent hound helps Willie break from his childish shell of isolation into adolescence.
The film is bookended with narration from Willie (here voiced by Harry Connick, Jr.) reminiscing about how much Skip influenced his 1940s childhood. Skip breaks the ice when Willie falters, growling at bullies and charming the pretty girls. The movie portrays Skip as the town's pet; loyal to Willie but loved by all. My Dog Skip is successful because its themes are familiar but not embellished. We all can remember struggling with some sort of social anxiety or growing pains, and the love of a first pet is universal.
Interestingly, Willie doesn't just stand up to his tormenters, he befriends them. Willie and his grubby buddies get into a fair amount of mischief, all of which seems perfectly appropriate for a nine-year-old boy. My Dog Skip also tackles many issues of the period. Dink returns from war disgraced and a drunkard; Willie runs into some spiteful moonshiners; and the movie highlights conflicts of both race and a patriarchal society.
Director Jay Russell gives the film a pleasant, unpretentious feel, and young Muniz gives a strong, emotional performance. My Dog Skip is able to counteract its sentiment with just enough bite, and the film remains positive without shying away from the troubles of the time. My Dog Skip is an enjoyable film about growing up, cherishing camaraderie and appreciating life.
My Dog Skip makes its high-def debut with a pleasant 1.85:1/1080p/VC-1-encoded transfer on a single-layer disc. Lighting matches the 1940s period, so the picture is somewhat soft, but many scenes exhibit strong detail and depth. Colors are generally well saturated, but skin tones and brighter hues tend to look a bit hot. Blacks are deep, and shadow detail remains during the film's numerous night shots. The print is clean and not marred by obtrusive digital noise reduction and filtering. There are some scenes that look overly soft and a bit grubby, but this is a nice transfer on the whole.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track does a nice job with the audibles for this even-handed drama. Dialogue is clear and unconstrained, be it human or canine. The mix is actually quite active, and the surround speakers are frequently used for ambiance and effects. I was surprised by the depth and range of the mix, which is quite powerful during scenes of a thunderstorm and baseball game. A French 5.1 track also is available, as are English SDH, Spanish and French subtitles.
There are no Blu-ray exclusive extras, but the DVD ports are decent enough. A pair of commentaries, one from Frankie Muniz and animal trainer Mathilde de Cagney and the other from Director Jay Russell, provides some interesting insight into the making of the film. Russell's commentary covers the technical aspects of filmmaking, but the insights from de Cagney are far more entertaining. I enjoyed hearing how the animal trainers accomplished Skip's complicated routine, and Muniz provides insight beyond his young age. Also included are deleted scenes (4:12) and the film's theatrical trailer.
It's hard to find much fault with My Dog Skip, an earnest, well-made family drama about a boy and his dog. Frankie Muniz is great as Willie Morris, a shy kid who finds his place in the world thanks to a spunky Jack Russell Terrier, and My Dog Skip is a great choice for family movie night. Warner Brothers' Blu-ray provides a nice upgrade in terms of picture and sound, and includes all of the DVD's extras. Recommended.
William lives in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.