Starring Lassie, Samantha Morton, Peter O’Toole, Peter Dinklage, Steve Pemberton, John Lynch, Edward Fox, Celyn Jones, Kelly Macdonald, Gregor Fisher and Jemma Redgrave.
Screenplay by Charles Sturridge.
Directed by Charles Sturridge.
Distributed by Samuel Goldwyn Films. 100 minutes. Rated PG.
No matter how harsh and cynical the world gets, even the hardest heart can be melted by the love of a boy and his dog.
It may seem a surprise that such a wonderfully old-fashioned and proudly square film franchise like Lassie would return in the digital age. It is also a shock that the bedrock values of the story – and a truly gorgeous dog – still work so well to return an adult to a more innocent and pure sense of joy and wonder.
The new Lassie is based on the original novel Lassie Come Home. It has lost a lot of the ridiculous aspects that have come to plague the character over the years. Lassie doesn’t understand English, nor does her best friend understand bark. (“Timmy’s in the well, girl? Show me where!”) Lassie does not have super powers or a human’s intelligence. The film is even returned to its original home of the United Kingdom after having been hijacked to small-town America for many years.
Lassie returns the series to its roots and the film works because of that. The film is wonderfully old-fashioned and occasionally shockingly hard-edged. It takes place in the depressed pre-war Britain of the 1930s. A family made up of Sam, a father who has just lost his job because the mine has closed (played by John Lynch of Sliding Doors), and his strong, determined but worried wife Sarah (wonderfully played by Samantha Morton who has been sadly low-profile since her Academy Award nominated turns in Sweet and Lowdown  and In America ). Their son Joe (young Jonathan Mason is cute and yet has a constant pinched sadness to his face) love their family dog.
Unfortunately, because money is so tight, the father has to take the deal when the richest man in town offers big money to buy Lassie for his granddaughter (the adorable Hester Odgers). The Duke is legendary actor Peter O’Toole, who can still act well enough, but he looks disturbingly embalmed in this role.
Lassie keeps escaping to go back home, but when she is driven hundreds of miles away to Northern Scotland, she must make her way over hundreds of miles to find the boy who loves her. On the way, she meets people good and bad – a friendly dwarf puppeteer (Peter Dinklage), a bumbling dog catcher (Gregor Fisher), a sweet bystander (Kelly Macdonald) and a pair of ruthless robbers. There is even a cameo by the Loch Ness Monster.
Of course, the only actor who really matters in Lassie herself (or rather himself, the dog is portrayed by an ancestor of the original Lassie and as always over the years a male collie plays the lass.) What is there to say, beyond the fact that she is spectacularly beautiful and sweet, the dog does a very good job of acting.
Lassie is the kind of old-fashioned family film that doesn’t get made too often in the aughties. That said, there are definitely some sections of Lassie which would probably be too upsetting for young children, but otherwise it is an unexpectedly terrific film for all. (9/06)
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2006 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: September 1, 2006.