My Dog Skip Directed By: Jay Russell Starring: Frankie Muniz, Diane Lane, Luke Wilson, Kevin Bacon Studio: Warner Year: 1999 Rated: PG Film Length: 95 minutes Aspect Ratio: 16:9 Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish Release Date: January 4, 2011 The Film ***½ My Dog Skip is a nostalgic coming of age story adapted from a memoir from noted American literary figure Willie Morris. The film introduces us to awkward young Will Morris (Muniz), a boy who lives in World War II era Yazoo, Mississippi. Will has trouble making friends and becomes even more insular when his neighbor and idol, local athlete Dink Jenkins (Wilson), leaves town to serve in the US Army in Europe. Over the objections of Will's Father, Jack (Bacon), his Mother, Ellen (Lane), gives him a dog for his birthday. Will and Skip become inseparable, and the dog eventually helps the boy to connect more with the world around him. Will's canine-assisted furtive steps towards adulthood also includes some glimpses into the darker side of human nature as he learns to contend with a group of local bullies, sees Dink return from Europe a changed man, and crosses paths with a pair of moonshiners using a local graveyard to stash their goods. A pretty solid entry in the dependable "boy and his dog" subgenre of family films, My Dog Skip benefits greatly from the efforts of the filmmaker to evoke an authentic small-town 1940s Mississippi atmosphere. Also listed in the "asset" column are a strong cast of adult and juvenile actors with Lane and Bacon appealingly underplaying the roles of the parents and Muniz showing similar restraint in the central role of young Will. Despite the image of Skip staring at a toilet that was central to the film's marketing campaign, the film generally avoids the low-brow humor that permeates much of what passes for family fare these days, but still manages to mix a healthy dose of laughs in with the gentle nostalgia and coming of age drama. The film does take a few minor mis-steps, most notably in a "Scooby-Doo meets Tom Sawyer" subplot involving Will and Skip crossing paths with a pair of moonshiners and an occasional tendency towards the sappy that is almost unavoidable in the subgenre. While it is a pretty safe bet that the dog in the film is smarter and more perceptive than just about any real life dog, the filmmakers at least stop short of imbuing Skip with the near super-heroic tendencies of Lassie or Rin-Tin-Tin. As the film is clearly presented as a wistfully nostalgic memoir from Will's point of view, the Dog's uncanny sensitivity and smarts make sense as a representation of how he would remember the constant canine companion of his youth. While not quite as good as the film Shiloh that preceded it by about three years, My Dog Skip still manages to present an above average cinematic experience for fans of the sub-genre, dogs, or period coming of age films. The Video **** The video comes courtesy of a VC-1 encoded 1080p presentation which approximates the film's original theatrical aspect ratio by filling the entire 16:9 frame. This is very good presentation of a very well shot film. The cinematography and production design tweak colors to create an appropriately nostalgic cast, while still yielding excellent sharpness and shadow detail (especially neccesary for the night time scenes set in a graveyard). The lighting is frequently soft, but the fine detail rarely suffers in this film-like presentation. The Audio *** The DTS-HD MA lossless 5.1 track makes very limited use of the discrete surrounds or LFE for anything more than light ambience. The surrounds come to life for a couple of weather effects during a thunderstorm, but are otherwise barely noticeable. Fidelity is generally quite good as one would expect from a lossless encoding of a film from the late 1990s. The Extras *** Special features on this disc are all carried over from the previous DVD release (minus a few menu-based features such as a "Cast List"). They are presented exactly as the previously appeared in standard definition video with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound. They are divided up under three headings on the Blu-ray disc menu. Under the menu heading of Behind the Story, are the following features: Audio Commentary from Director Jay Russell is a very comprehensive screen-specific commentary that runs the entire length of the film. It is far and away the most interesting behind the scenes extra included on the disc. Russell is rarely at a loss for words, and clearly had fond and vivid memories of the production at the time the track was recorded. Gaps are rare as Russell mixes specific comments about particular scenes with extended anecdotes about the production process inclusive of topics ranging from how he first became aware of the book and secured the rights to it to the casting of the dogs who played "Skip". He also discusses various deviations between the screenplay and source book. Audio Commentary from Frankie Muniz and Animal Trainer Mathilde de Cagney is the lesser of two commentaries. It features Muniz and de Cagney recorded together, but does not even run half of the film's running length. It does provide some additional perspective beyond that in Russell's track, particularly with respect to the animal action in the film. Under the heading of Additional Footage are: Deleted Scenes with Commentary from Director Jay Russell (4:3 Letterboxed video - 4:12) are presented as a single menu selection and are not separated by chapter stops. Winston Groom's Line - A brief cameo by author Winston Groom. Groom, best known for writing Forrest Gump was a close friend of My Dog Skip author Willie Morris Dog Peeing - A minor gag involving Skip peeing that Russell wanted to include because of the efforts of the prop department to make it work. Jeep to Dink's - A scene setting up a deleted subplot concerning reports that Dink is missing in action Will Prays - A good scene where Willie talks to his Mother and then prays for Dink's safe return that had to be deleted with the Dink MIA subplot Under the heading of Trailers is, to nobody's surprise..: Theatrical Trailer (16:9 video - 1:40). This is a brief promo that focuses heavily on the dog ... and the toilet from which he drinks. Packaging The disc is enclosed in a standard Blu-ray case with no inserts. Menus are straightforward, although dividing the four special features into three subheadings seems a bit unnecessary. Summary ***½ My Dog Skip is an entertaining "boy and his dog" coming of age story that overcomes an occasional tendency towards sappiness and cliche thanks to the efforts of a strong adult and juvenile cast, the incorporation of both humor and thematic darkness, and an effective evocation of World War II era Mississippi that visually envelopes the viewer in a sense of warm nostalgia. It is presented on Blu-ray disc with a solid 1080p video and lossless audio representation of its impressive cinematography and unambitious audio mix. Extras are carried over from the earlier DVD release of the film and include a very informative full length screen specific commentary from Director Jay Russell, a commentary from actor Frankie Muniz and Animal Trainer Mathilde de Cagney that runs less than half the length of the film, some brief deleted scenes, and the film's theatrical trailer.