1996 drama, rated PG (US), runs 1 hour, 33 minutes.
Based on the book by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, the screenplay was written
by Dale Rosenbloom, who also made his directorial debut.
- Major Cast
Frannie (a beagle)
- Minor Cast
C-Dawg says: two paws up
I've heard this movie
lazily described as a story of
"a boy and his dog". Which is exactly
what it is not.
There is a boy. There is a dog. There is also heart-wrenching
conflict between two courses of action, both of which are
In a nutshell:
a dog follows a boy (Heron) home, having run away
from his owner who has his own ideas of how animals need to be
trained and treated. The dog has clearly been injured, and when the
owner (Wilson) shows up to claim him, he gets the predictable response
from the children, while making no excuses for his behavior. When the
dog runs away a second time and searches out the boy, the boy hides
him from his parents while he attempts to earn money doing odd jobs so
that he can offer to buy the dog. Naturally, that doesn't go off as
smoothly as planned, resulting in conflicts between the boy, his father (Moriarty),
and the dog's owner. Eventually the boy, with some blackmail on his
side, agrees with the owner that he can buy the dog with a week's labor
around the house; at the end of the week, the owner reneges on the
agreement, calling the boy a fool. As he carries off the dog, though,
the boy's appeal to his honor belatedly has him giving the dog over,
with a happy ending.
This is an excellent movie for all ages, inviting the audience to
try to decide, not between "right" and "wrong", but which "right"
should trump the other. We feel that the principle of private property
must have some flexibility when the property is living creatures, which
is why we have laws against animal cruelty. While it is probably shelved
by most in the "children's" or "family" section, as Roger Ebert says
in an introduction: There's no such thing as a "children's" movie;
if it can't be enjoyed by all ages, it's not a good movie. And I
don't know any adults who can just blithely decide how they would handle the
situation the movie presents without a lot of thought, both intellectual
and emotional. Children can certainly be drawn to the movie, however, by
the fact that the dog is tremendously cute, an area in which Hollywood
permits no accidents.
Apart from the morality play, the whole movie has a kind of
Waltons-esque feel to it. While the boy's father is
employed, money is very tight; even though that is explained by having
spent a great deal on a sick parent, there is an overall feeling that
economic conditions are not good in (wherever the story takes place).
While the product placement makes it clear that the setting is contemporary,
it is definitely rural and then some. The dog's illiterate owner lives in
an old trailer off of a dirt road and makes his living by hunting game,
both large and small. Even the general store contributes to the effect.
Blending the Waltons with Disney is the almost inhuman
goodnaturedness of everybody. Even while there are domestic conflicts
over money, raising kids, and the question of the dog, no voices are
raised. The thing that really came off a bit artificial is that the
children are, shall we say, not totally childlike. The father immediately
comes down on the side of the dog's owner, and purposely keeps his
distance from the dog to avoid complicating the problem, and the boy
seems to understand, not his position exactly, but that as an adult he
may have superior ability to come to a decision and to do what needs to
be done. There's a small bit of whining, but none of the shouting and
angry words that would probably come from a real child in that situation.
In particular, in the last scene where the boy is appealing to the owner's
conscience, I would expect that even if he were able to avoid revealing
the details in an immediate outburst, he would remind the owner that their
agreement had not only a written part (which the dog's owner had
contemptuously repudiated), but the unwritten pledge which was the real
leverage the boy had over him.
All of that seemed rather overt to me during my viewing, but it did
not detract from my enjoyment of the movie. While the moral questions
are good for people to ponder, there is one bad lesson here for children.
The boy wisely got the agreement on the work-for-dog deal on paper, but
the dog's owner later told him that that was meaningless without a
and the sheriff would back him up on that. This is, of course, not true,
and to me could serve to instill the idea in a child's head that governments
and laws are necessary means for the world to work, rather than honest
agreements among men.
Some of my favorite scenes were Rod Steiger, as the easygoing country
doctor, having a talk with the boy about love, and how sometimes you have
to fight for it, and be willing to give up all you have; and the boy's
father coming downstairs in the night to pet the dog, thinking nobody
sees him — and the couchfast boy playing along.
While the movie has an abrupt happy ending, with an only-in-the-movies
change of heart by the "bad guy", there is a sequel which I haven't seen.
In Shiloh 2: Shiloh Season, the conflict continues.