A Boy and His Dog: Movies for Your Young Dog Whisperer
“A boy and his dog make a glorious pair: No better friendship is found anywhere.”
- Edgar Guest
A boy and his dog is a common Hollywood trope that’s a favorite with audiences. While some movies featuring man’s best friend are better left to the adults, we dug into the doghouse and found four fab films with a canine theme that are great for kids of all ages:
When young Will Stoneman (Mackenzie Astin) is faced with supporting his family after the accidental death of his father, he enters a prestigious sled race in the hopes of winning the $10,000 prize. The year is 1917 and the race, between Winnipeg and St. Paul is over 500 grueling miles long — of course, the young man is the underdog (sorry) and is beset with challenges along the treacherous route.
The wealthy sponsor of the race, J.P. Harper (David Ogden Stiers), tries to bar Will from entering, believing the competition is too tough for such a young, inexperienced entrant. Enter yellow journalist Harry Kingsley (Kevin Spacey), who persuades Harper to allow Will and his dogs in the race. Harry doesn’t do this from the goodness of his heart; he has his own agenda (but in the end, he finds his own place in the human race).
With his father’s best dog Gus at the head of his dog team, Will is ready and determined to take first prize. He soon discovers that winning the race is only half the battle as he contends with the unscrupulous Scandinavian musher Borg Guillarson (George Gerdes) and the wealthy gambler Angus McTeague (Brian Cox), who will stop at nothing to see his chosen team win.
My Dog Skip is a childhood memoir told from the perspective of the protagonist’s now-adult self (in this case, narrated in voiceover by Harry Connick Jr.). Willie Morris (Frankie Muniz) is a shy and wistful only child growing up in Yazoo, Mississippi during World War II. There’s nothing outwardly wrong with him, but for some reason he just doesn’t fit in.
His parents (played wonderfully by Kevin Bacon and Diane Lane) don’t realize that their son is such an outcast; it’s heartbreaking when they throw a 9th birthday party for him and only a few elderly relatives show up. That day is an emotional roller coaster for Willie, whose only friend, Dink Jenkins (Luke Wilson) has recently gone off to fight with the Allies in the war. Willie is lonely and wants to have a pet dog, but his father has put his foot down (Literally: He only has one foot — the other one was blown off in the Spanish Civil War). Mom circumvents dad, and presents Willie with an adorable Jack Russell terrier. The boy names his puppy Skipper, Skip for short.
Skip’s charming and outgoing personality starts to win friends for Willie (and a girlfriend, Rivers Applewhite, played with demure charm by Caitlin Wachs), but he also attracts the unwanted attention of the local bullies. Willie is challenged and taunted by Big Boy Wilkinson (Bradley Coryell), Henjie Henick (Daylan Honeycutt) and Spit McGee (Cody Linley), because they’re jealous of the fine pooch and of Willie’s letter correspondence with Dink. Dink was the local hero because of his prowess in athletics, and everyone back home in Yazoo is anxiously following his exploits in the war.
Dink mails Willie a German’s helmet and gun belt, which sends the bullies into harassment overdrive after Willie presents the items at show & tell in school. They challenge him to a bet: If “Wilma” can stand an all-nighter in the local cemetery, he can keep the war artifacts — if not, they’re forfeited. Still wanting nothing more than to fit in, Willie accepts the dare. With Skip at his side, Willie braves ghosts, corpses, and even bootleggers using the crypts to hide their hooch.
Time passes and Dink returns to Yazoo. Willie is ecstatic, but his friend just isn’t the same. Soon the shameful truth emerges: When confronted by the atrocities of war, Dink ran from the battle lines. He’s just a “yellow-bellied coward!” crowed the bully brigade.
In trying to reconcile his hero worship with his disenchantment in the dishonored soldier, Willie extends the olive branch and invites Dink to come and watch him play in the local baseball game. Dink says he’ll be there but as it turns out, he’s just too drunk and depressed to make the effort.
Simmering with disappointment, Willie’s temper flares and he takes his frustration out on Skip in front of everyone on the baseball field. The dog runs away. Here’s where the story starts to unravel a bit, relying on a big showdown in which Dink redeems himself and Skip’s life is thrown into peril.
Despite some minor problems, My Dog Skip is more puppy love than dog days. It successfully captures the mood of a bygone era, and the actors are all quite good at melding into the 1940’s. This movie will certainly affect anyone who’s had a “dog named Skip” or anyone who wants to take a sentimental journey down childhood lane.
This faithful adaptation starts full-tilt at the end of a mystery where damsel in distress, Daphne (Sarah Michelle Gellar), has been taken hostage by a gargantuan ghost and is being carried away into the night by the frightful phantom. This happens to Daphne a lot… as Fred says to her, “You come with your own ransom note!”
Conceited but clueless Fred (Freddie Prinze Jr.), and nerdy but brainy Velma (Linda Cardellini), along with the perpetually spooked Shaggy (Matthew Lillard) and his hound Scooby Doo (voiced by Neil Fanning), somehow solve the mystery and save Daphne.
All’s well that ends well, and the Mystery, Inc. team holds a press conference where they unmask the villain and explain how they cracked the case. As usual, Fred takes all the credit, and that’s the final straw: The sleuths decide to go their separate ways in the dog-eat-dog world. That lasts for just a few minutes, until a new mystery draws them all back together again.
Turner & Hooch stars Oscar darling Tom Hanks, pre-Oscar and just barely post-Bosom Buddies sitcom. This is a good example of Hanks’ early work — showing that he could be outrageously funny, but also had potential as a serious, multi-faceted actor — despite the rather rampant 80’s clichés. It’s light fare at best, but Hanks and the dog do make a great comedic pair.
Hanks plays Scott Turner, a super-fastidious clean-freak of a cop who only has three days left on the job when he comes up against the biggest case of his career. It’s a murder case, which is rare in his small seaside burg—and rarer still—is the fact that there is an eyewitness to the crime. Unluckily, the witness is a pugnacious pooch named Hooch (played by Beasley), and he’s not talking. Turner decides that the only way to coax out the details and find the killer is to buddy up to the ill-tempered, sharp-toothed, shoestring-slobbering junkyard mutt.
The persnickety policeman and the dirty dog make odd bedfellows as Hooch turns the man’s apartment upside down, and even goes so far as to lick all the beer cans in the fridge (sending neat-nick Turner into a tailspin). Although the two clash at first, they become partners in law and solve the crime together. Awww… How cute! Turner & Hooch, despite a too-serious ending, is a pretty lightweight comedy with some good action sequences and a decent mystery. Fun for kids, for sure.
Know of any flicks for dog lovers? Share your recommendations with us!
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