Willie Morris (Muniz) is a lonely 9-year-old in 1942 Mississippi --no schoolfriends, a dad (Bacon) still sulking over his war injury, a mother (Lane) trying to overcome Dad's sulkiness. The neighbourhood boys (Coryell, Honeycutt and Linley) pick on him mercilessly; his one friend is the cool teenager Dink (Wilson), who's off to fight in WWII, leaving Willie utterly alone. Until Mom goes against Dad's wishes and buys him a little dog who becomes his best buddy. Through their adventures, Willie is able to befriend the bullies, woo the prettiest girl in town (Wachs), foil a couple of moonshiners (Howard and Crombie), and of course learn Important Life Lessons.
There are a lot of problems here, but the main misstep is to take it all so seriously. The few attempts at humour are so relentlessly wry and heartwarming that they're not remotely funny. As a result the entire film feels increasingly ludicrous until the finale, which collapses in a flood of forced wistful sugariness. While it has a nice attention to period detail, all of the actors are directed to stilted, artificial, one-note performances that don't ever engage us; the dog is easily the most engaging character (the older Skip is played by Moose, aka Eddie from Frasier). Sure, it's just a sweet little kid's movie, but it's also so abrasively artificial and irritating that I can't imagine any but the most naive children buying into it.
[U--some adult themes] 8.Aug.00
US release 3.Mar.00; UK release 11.Aug.00
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