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Heroes of the Zeroes: My Dog Skip

by on July 29, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“My Dog Skip”
Rated PG

Not a mawkish dying-dog tearjerker, 2000’s “My Dog Skip” carried a touch of Mark Twain, with quasi-dangerous tall tales and awareness of the gap between childhood and boyhood. Plus, as it’s said of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” there’s cussin’ in it.

It’s sometimes tough to see through hazy Hallmark Channel cinematography or hear between strains of a William Ross score in which the strings swell so much they’re oozing pus.

Still, this kinda-rambunctious, kinda-relaxing adaptation of anecdotes from Willie Morris’ memoir took a tactful, wistful look at bygone days of a boy’s life circa 1942. It’s a less-timeless, Southern-fried twin to “A Christmas Story,” with Harry Connick Jr.’s Cajun-cadence narration replacing Jean Shepherd.

Honestly, Skip is the least interesting character — a Jack Russell Terrier whose cute tricks (“driving,” drinking toilet water, etc.) are purposeful diversions from themes of war, death and racism. Skip is the constant pal to scrawny young Willie (Frankie Muniz, then a seedling), bullied at school and babied at home by his war-veteran father (Kevin Bacon).

Every kid’s life gets to a point beyond good parenting where it’s simply trial and error, and “Skip” sends Willie through those tests — of friendship, perseverance and prejudice. Without slathering it on thick, director Jay Russell shows that children of any era goad themselves into what they think is adulthood — emulating, imitating and learning from mistakes.

Although you know “Skip’s” final frame from the first one, it arrives there via such graceful, gentle and bittersweet nostalgia that it hardly matters.

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