Having IMDB open in another tab has become something of a religious requirement for my reviews now. As a result, I am always conscious of the score that has been awarded to what I have just watched (though this never colours my perception of the film). “Lassie”, directed by Daniel Petrie, is a lovely family film that I found quite tough to dislike, not that I tried. Baffled then was I that the score on IMDB is a measly 5.8, a score that seems to almost guarantee mediocrity. Not this time, “Lassie” is a flawed film like so many others but children will almost certainly love it and as I said, it is difficult to not enjoy on some level.
Tom Guiry plays Matt Turner, a boy who I think most will agree is in need of a good slap at the start of the movie. Matt and his sister Jennifer (Britanny Boyd) are suffering from the loss of their mother a few years prior and are now having to deal with their father (Jon Tenney) making Julia (Helen Slater) their new stepmother. Matt doesn’t take to this too kindly and even scolds his younger sister simply for calling her “Mom”. The Turner clan have uprooted and are travelling to Virginia to stay at their maternal grandfathers farmhouse, in an area that is sparsely populated to say the least, much to Matt’s vocal dismay.
On the way they find a stray Collie that has survived a crash which tragically takes the lives of its owners. Jennifer is overjoyed because of the resemblance it has with the star of her favourite TV show displaying the original incarnation of the most recognisable dog ever brought to the screen. Accordingly she names it Lassie and it soon becomes clear that this dog is more in touch with humans than is immediately clear.
What we end up with is a simple story. Matt is the main character and Lassie quickly turns him into a character that isn’t completely repulsive. The countryside the family have moved into due to the fathers job troubles have provided Matt the opportunity to get away from the city and come to terms with what has happened to his mother and how things have developed since then.
It’s predictable as all hell, “Lassie” doesn’t take a single risk besides perhaps having smoking and cigarettes as well as a child insulting another by calling him a faggot. My copy of the film is rated “U”, even though films like “Kung Fu Panda” manage to get “PG” ratings. I’m not 100% sure what is happening there, but rest assured I think most pre-teens will enjoy “Lassie” and I wouldn’t suggest the film isn’t suitable for children. Only the instantly identifiable “bad” characters ever smoke and I’m sure the swear will go right over their heads as the sole occurrence.
“Lassie” is a character that is unsurprisingly light on development, she isn’t a mystical talking dog just a sensitive one. This is fine because she is more of a tool to better the Turner family than anything else and to that extent I naturally cared for her when the evil neighbours — led by Sam Garland (Frederic Forrest) — make plans to dispatch her.
It takes the formula of the tight lipped animal movie and adds just enough that it can be enjoyed lightly by those older than the people the film is truly intended for. Lessons that need to be taught are taught, and entertainment is heaped in equal measure.