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'Skip': Puppy Love

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 3, 2000


    'My Dop Skip' Frankie Muniz and his best friend in "My Dog Skip." (Warner Bros.)
You can claim to be immune to schmaltz. You can assure me that you are too jaded and postmodern and cool for sap. But you haven't seen "My Dog Skip."

Let's make one thing clear. The movie, starring Frankie Muniz, the kid from "Malcolm in the Middle," is a fairly mundane affair, in terms of dramatic complexity. Set in Yazoo, Miss., in the 1940s, and based on Willie Morris's 1995 boyhood memoir, it's about a spunky 8-year-old called Willie (Muniz) who lives with a stern father (Kevin Bacon), a sweet mother (Diane Lane) and no one to call his own.

Oh sure, Willie has Dink Jenkins (Luke Wilson), the friendly athlete next door he idolizes. And there's cute little Rivers Applewhite (Caitlin Wachs) from his class. But Dink, a high school senior, is bound for wartime duty. And getting even a glance from the beautiful Rivers seems next to impossible. To top it all, Willie's nasty, grimy classmates – including that evil Big Boy Wilkinson (Bradley Coryell) – are forever beating Willie for reading books instead of playing ball.

This boy needs a dog. And so does this movie.

But when Skip shows up on Willie's ninth birthday, the movie rolls out the big nuclear weapon. Like a guided missile locked into the coordinates of your heart, Skip (a Jack Russell terrier) streaks into your soft parts. It doesn't matter that the story (adapted by Gail Gilchriest) is closer to TV drama than, say, the classic southern poignancy of Carson McCullers. It doesn't even matter that no one sounds as if they've been anywhere south of Dover, Del. – except Harry Connick Jr., who provides the narration for the older Willie.

What matters is a Jack Russell terrier (played by a handful of adorable, wonderfully trained pooches) licking Willie's face. Or bounding up a tree to catch a squirrel. Or sneaking a slurp of Dad's drink while the old man's reading the paper. Or nearly disappearing into a commode as he tries to drink the water.

And what makes that cornball missile really hit the target is the look on Willie's face. Oh, that look – as this big-eyed boy stares rapturously at the pup who stole his heart!

"I could feel the beating of his heart against my body," recalls Willie in voice-over, as the young Willie spends his first night with the dog.

Skip, my friends, is this movie.

I have to warn parents that "My Dog Skip" isn't rated PG for nothing. The reason that Willie's father initially opposes getting a dog is because Skip is "a heartbreak waiting to happen." He's right about that. Some scenes are guaranteed to cause alarm and even tears, particularly when Skip comes up against some unsavory moonshiners in a graveyard.

But if your kids can get through that – without giving too much away – I think they'll be glad they came. And almost any excruciation is worth it for the movie's funniest moment: when Mom slumps down in the driver's seat one afternoon and holds Skip up to the steering wheel, creating the visual impression that the dog is driving. I had to beg my 8-year-old to stop laughing.

MY DOG SKIP (PG, 95 minutes) – Contains some strong language and some emotionally distressing material.

© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company


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