With the film industry continually digging for recognizable and classic "brands" to turn into new material, it's no surprise that Lassie has come home... once again. Her last big screen romp was in a 1994 US movie. Now -- twelve years later -- she's moved back to the time and setting in which her creator, novelist Eric Knight, originally introduced her.
In the days leading up to Britain's involvement in World War II, this beloved pet belongs to the Carraclough family. Their only child, Joe (Jonathan Mason), depends on the beautiful dog to be the one bright spot in his otherwise dreary existence of attending school under the tutelage of a physically nasty teacher. Getting whacked three times on each wrist for not hearing a question, the boy has had a particularly bad day, which only gets worse when he discovers his hard working Yorkshire father, Sam (John Lynch), is out of a job after the local mine is shut down.
Scraping together a meager living, Sam and his wife Sarah (Samantha Morton), succumb to a request from the wealthy Duke of Rudling (Peter O'Toole) to purchase Lassie for his granddaughter Cilla (Hester Odgers), a young and lonely transplant from London, who has come to the countryside to avoid the perils of the impending war. But while the parents are happy to have the money, Joe and Lassie are heartbroken, and the pooch determines to run back home -- even after being transported to the Duke's residence in the very north of Scotland.
A UK, Ireland, and France co-production, this film dumps Hollywood flair for some refreshing foreign simplicities. Special effects are nearly non-existent (save for a glance at an odd creature swimming in Loch Ness) and the script never stoops to the typical silliness that pervades far too many products aimed at young audiences. Instead, this is an intelligent story in which nothing is too far fetched to be unbelievable. Each character has realistic motivations for their actions, and while the ending is a tad sentimental, the movie never pulls heartstrings in a manipulative way.
Young children may be saddened by the inclusion of the death of a pup and the often perilous circumstances the hero canine faces. These situations also contain violent moments, with the most intense scene involving a nomadic dwarf (Peter Dinklage) who is assaulted by two thugs brandishing sticks. A few profanities and British colloquialisms also sneak into some conversations.
Thanks to a cast of seasoned adults and fresh young faces (Jonathan Mason being particularly compelling and perhaps able to express the saddest emotion of any young actor in recent memory), as well as scenery that will be novel to North American viewers, this solid family film is a rare breed, indeed.