Directed by Charles Sturridge, starring Peter O'Toole, Samantha Morton, Hester Odgers, John Lynch, Jonathan Mason, Steve Pemberton and Peter Dinklage.
It's Groundhog Day for Lassie as she's yet again transported miles away from her beloved owner and must endure the long and cruel journey home. The story of Lassie has been around since 1938 and, with ten previous feature films following the beautiful collie's adventures and a TV series, it seems Lassie has had more lives than any cat could dream of.
Director Charles Sturridge brings the story back to its original homeland, in the heart of depressing Yorkshire, on the eve of the Second World War.
Little Joe Carraclough (Mason) loves his dog Lassie more than anything in the world. But times are tough in the Carraclough household and when his father Sam (Lynch) loses his job at mine, the only option is to sell the family dog to the Duke of Rudling (O'Toole). But Lassie is not happy under the care of the cruel kennel man Hynes (Pemberton), and escapes time and time again back to her loving friend Joe. Even when Lassie finds herself in the Duke's mansion 500 miles away in the northern tip of Scotland, she's still determined to return home.
The Duke's granddaughter, Cilla (Odgers), empathises with Lassie, understanding that the dog is lonesome after Joe, just as she wishes she could escape boarding school and go back to live with her parents. With Cilla's help Lassie manages to escape outside of the castle grounds, but her adventure is only beginning.
Lassie faces plenty of challenges from the physical formidable landscape and dog catchers, but it is random people like travelling puppeteer Rowlie (Dinklage) who aid Lassie in her journey homeward.
It is an emotional story, in particular when little Joe is forced to tell his beloved dog that he doesn't love her or want her anymore, or when nasty Hynes takes his belt to the forlorn dog, but the film is eventually uplifting, contrary to the belief that it's a dog's life...
Sturridge was firm that he didn't want to make a film about a talking dog running around making jokes, and he tells the story with simplicity. This film is nothing riveting but it is traditional, honest and nice.
Cilla's story is a strong subplot as she too tries to escape. In the role that first brought fame to Elizabeth Taylor in the original 1940 version, young Hester Odgers acts with greatness in her film debut. But endearing little Jonathan Mason who plays Joe is superb and soulful. He's similar to the loveable Chesney in 'Coronation Street' and that's not at all a bad thing.
But after so many Lassie adventures, the question is whether Sturridge is flogging a dead horse by creating the sense of déjà vu in bringing Lassie back to the big screen or whether he is attributing value to a timeless, classic story?
If you want a break from the empire of special effects-saturated children's films, then this is a wholesome tale of faith, determination and loyalty. But it has also, and literally, been told a thousand times before.