My Dog Skip 

The appeal of Willie Morris' short memoir, My Dog Skip, is that it paints a lively picture of a dog that was the author's best friend while it recounts life in Morris' boyhood home in Mississippi, the strain of World War II in the background. The movie only fitfully re-creates the original's charm. In the film, young Willie (Frankie Muniz) has no siblings and no friends. Fortunately, the shrewd but lovable Skip helps Willie earn the respect of local bullies and learn how to be a better person. This may seem to be a tall order for a canine, but Skip can play ball with boys and can convincingly fake driving a car. The dog wranglers have worked overtime, and the animals who play Skip are convincing and remarkably expressive (check out Skip's reaction to Hitler). The humans (who include Diane Lane and Kevin Bacon as Willie's parents) are upstaged, and many times the filmmakers use dull clichés to fill in the sketchier parts of Morris' story (such as perfunctory attempts to address racial tensions). The efforts at adding depth to the story are commendable, but sometimes it's better just to watch a dog do its old tricks. (PG) Rating: 6

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