Same Dog, New Tricks
The new Lassie features Jonathan Mason as Joe Carraclough, a young boy whose teacher despises him because he falls asleep during class and doesn't know the answers to her questions. Hauling Joe to the front of the class, she punishes him by whacking him hard several times with a ruler. Joe's only solace is knowing his dog Lassie will be there to play with when school concludes for the day.
Priscilla (Hester Odgers) shares her grandfather's (Peter O'Toole) eye for beauty. He's the Duke of Rudling, and during a commotion over a fox the hunters and the Duke want to capture, Priscilla notices Lassie and makes a remark about the dog's attractiveness. While the hunters were not able to catch the fox that afternoon, they may still catch something valuable and make quite a score.
Edward Hynes (Steve Pemberton) has made numerous offers to Joe’s father Sam (John Lynch) for the dog -- going as high as 15 British pounds. Sam argued that Lassie is not his dog to sell. Joe overhears some of this conversation and is assured by his mother Sarah (Samantha Morton) that they are not selling Lassie.
Meanwhile, the Duke decides to close Yorkshire’s mine prior to World War II commencing. Sam worked in the mine and now he must find a way for his family to survive. When Lassie does not arrive at school one day to wait for Joe, the worried boy assumes something dreadful has happened. But Lassie had been sold to the Duke while Joe was away. Equally as heartbroken as Joe, Lassie will not take food.
Hynes promises the Duke he will soon have Lassie adjust to her new home and eating kennel style foods. Lassie will have dinner shoved down her throat if need be, as far as he is concerned. There's no way this wretched individual will allow his reputation to be tarnished by the canine disobeying his every effort.
Lassie escapes from her kennel several times and returns to Joe. Hynes thinks the family trained her to do it so they could bilk Rudling out of money by stealing and re-selling the dog to someone else. Joe is persuaded to scold the dog in front of Hynes and to tell Lassie never to return to him again as he has no use for her.
To ensure Lassie will not flee again, she is taken to Scotland. When Hynes beats her for not cooperating, Lassie makes a run for the gates where Priscilla deliberately disobeys his instruction not to open them. Lassie is now free and on her own -- with plans to return to Joe despite hundreds of miles separating them.
There are several polished performances here. Peter Dinklage stands out as a dwarf traveling with his horse and small dog named “Toots” performing puppet shows for children. His scenes with Lassie teach valuable lessons about loyalty and perserverance.
The movie's cinematography is breathtaking, and director Charles Sturridge has carefully crafted and executed this impressive family film. Audiences will surely appreciate Sturridge's intermittent use of maps showing how far Lassie must travel.
The North American Premiere of Lassie will be held April 21st at Sprockets: Toronto International Film Festival for Children. For more information on this showing and other Lassie screenings, call the box-office at (416)968-Film or visit the Festival's official site.
(Released by Entertainment Film Distributors Ltd.; not rated by MPAA.)