Sunday, May 20, 2018
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Movie review: Lassie ****

There is no Timmy to be found, or for viewers who are old enough to remember, not even a Jeff.

Except for a beautiful collie, there is no resemblance to the family adventure show that ran on CBS from 1954 to 1971, making it familiar to many adult moviegoers.

Instead, the movie Lassie is an adaptation of Eric Knight s 1938 classic novel about a Yorkshire family and its beautiful dog.

Sentimentality is much disparaged these days, and Lassie is indeed sentimental, but almost nothing (other than one brief scene toward the end) seems forced. The animals don t talk; the people are more than stereotypes, and director Charles Sturridge (Shackleton, Fairy Tale: A True Story) skillfully weaves several story lines to show how people of different social classes are as alike as they are different.

In a pre-World War I coal-mining village, young Joe Carraclough lives with his mother, Sarah, father, Sam, and dogs Lassie and Cricket. Times are hard, for the coal seam has played out and the owner closes the mine, throwing most of the village s men, including Sam, out of work.

Desperate to put food on the table, Sam sells Joe s collie, Lassie, to the Duke of Rudling, who breeds the beautiful animals. When Lassie escapes from the Duke s kennels twice, each time returning home to Joe, the peer decides to take the animal to his estate in Scotland, 1,000 miles away.

Lassie escapes from that prison, too, and starts making her way south.

We ve seen the story before, recently in the Homeward Bound movies, where Michael J. Fox, Sally Field, and Don Ameche provided voices for three lost pets that had many adventures before they found their family.

Lassie, too, has many adventures, but she has no human voice, and viewers have no clue as to her thoughts. As one helpful human says to the dog, There s the mystery. You can understand us, but we can t understand you. And we re supposed to be the smart ones.

There is very little anthropomorphism in the film. The animals are allowed to behave like animals, and that makes the story affecting as Lassie defies the weather, starvation, and human and natural obstacles.

Young Joe s counterpart in the film is Priscilla, whose world also is turned upside down when her parents, deciding that a London on the brink of war is too dangerous, send her to live with her grandfather, the Duke. Priscilla sympathizes with Lassie s need to be with her family, for that is what she yearns for, as much as she loves her grandfather.

For his part, the Duke resembles Sarah, Joe s mother, in that neither wants to believe that war is in the wind and will bring real changes to their lives.

Other assets of Lassie along with the honest story are Howard Atherton s gorgeous cinematography and a sterling cast, including Samantha Morton as Sarah, Peter O Toole as the Duke, John Lynch as Sam, and Jonathan Mason and Hester Odgers as Joe and Priscilla. But that s not all. Lassie is filled with cameos and short sequences by the likes of Edward Fox (The Day of the Jackal), Kelly Macdonald, who just won an Emmy for The Girl in the Caf , Jemma Redgrave, and Peter Dinklage (The Station Agent).

Though the story might seem that it has been done to death, Lassie feels genuine and refreshing. Maybe it s the lack of computer-generated graphics or the fact that people are human, not superhuman.

Whatever the reason, Lassie tugs at the heartstrings, and it feels good while she s doing it.

Contact Nanciann Cherry at: or 419-724-6130.

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