DVD Release Date:  November 14, 2006
Theatrical Release Date:  September 1, 2006 (limited)
Rating:  PG (for some mild violent content and language)
Genre:  Family/Drama
Run Time: 100 min.
Director:  Charles Sturridge
Actors:  Lassie, Peter O’Toole, Samantha Morton, Peter Dinklage, Steve Pemberton, John Lynch, Jemma Redgrave, Gregor Fisher

In 1938, author Eric Wright published the first Lassie novel about two Yorkshire families and a collie during that same era.  The 1940 sequel, “Lassie Come Home,” was made into a film by the same name three years later and soon became a classic, onscreen and off.

Since that time, Lassie has taken on dozens of identities – some English, some American, both period and modern.  Most people will remember Lassie from the small screen, however, where several television series have transformed her into an American icon.  Her latest incarnation, therefore, may come as a surprise.  But like many surprises, it’s a good one.

It’s the eve of World War II in the tiny town of Greenhall, Yorkshire, where coal miner Sam Carraclough (John Lynch), his wife, Sarah (Samantha Morton) and their 9-year-old son, Joe (Jonathan Mason) are struggling to survive.  Joe’s greatest joy in life is his collie, Lassie, who meets him every day after school.  But when the mine closes and Joe’s father finds himself without work, they reluctantly sell Lassie to the wealthy Duke of Rudling (Peter O'Toole), who wants Lassie for his kennel and his granddaughter (Hester Odgers).

Unfortunately, Rudling puts Hynes, his employee (Steve Pemberton), in charge of Lassie.  Short-tempered and cruel, Hynes is livid at Lassie’s repeated escape attempts and beats her after Joe, pitifully and reluctantly, returns the dog to her new owners.  Finally, Rudling decides to take everyone to his castle in the north of Scotland.  But, even there, Lassie finds a way to flee.  The intrepid collie thus embarks on a long odyssey toward home, during which she enjoys many adventures and dangers, including a baffoonish dog catcher (Gregor Fischer), a gypsy puppeteer (Peter Dinklage), the Loch Ness monster and a courtroom appearance before a judge. 

Apparently very similar to the 1943 movie “Lassie Come Home,” veteran television director and scriptwriter Charles Sturridge’s (“My House in Umbria,” “Gulliver’s Travels”) film is also a faithful adaptation of the book, with beautiful cinematography.  Not only is the script excellent, with believable characters (and, thankfully, no Americans attempting English accents), but it also portrays the various struggles between the classes which are so inherent to Knight’s writing, beginning with the opening scene when Lassie foils a foxhunt.

O’Toole combines exactly the right amount of stoicism and compassion for a sympathetic nobleman, and the children are understated yet credible, as only British child actors are.  As the cruel dog-hater, Pemberton is evil but not cartoonish, and Lynch and Morton are moving as Joe’s parents.  In a stand-out performance as a gypsy, Dinklage (“The Station Agent,” “Elf”) is worth the price of the rental alone.

The film contains a few mild obscenities and one scene in which Lassie is beaten, which will require some parental explanation – always a good thing, anyway, when it comes to movie watching with the kids.  But this does not detract from the fact that “Lassie” is top-notch family entertainment for adults and youngsters alike.  Most likely, it will leave both wiping away a few tears.

AUDIENCE:  Older children and up

DVD EXTRAS:

  •  "Animal Planet at the Movies:  On the Set of “Lassie”
  • Cast and Crew Interviews
  • Behind the Scenes
  • Animal Auditions
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Outtakes
  • Thumper the Fox
  • Lassie and Friends
  • Theatrical Trailer

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  None.
  • Language/Profanity:  A few mild obscenities including numerous instances of the British “bloody.”
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:  None.
  • Violence:  A man beats an animal, but is reprimanded for it.