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CANNES — Smitty has big paws to follow: Rin Tin Tin, Old Yeller, Lassie, Beethoven, Hooch, Marley, among other top dogs. Smartly, this dog story doesn’t confuse itself with new tricks: “Smitty” is an old-fashioned, boy-and-his dog yarn.
It’s the sort of a “Waltons”-esque story that they, unfortunately, don’t seem to make often enough anymore, but there is a great big Middle American audience out there for this heartfelt entertainment.
In this TriCoast production, Brandon Tyler Russell stars as a Chicago boy who gets into trouble too often and gets sent straight to the farm. In this case, the farm is not prison jargon, rather, it means grandpa’s corn farm in Iowa.
Gramps (Peter Fonda) is a stubborn old coot who has burned his family bridges and is not overjoyed to see his grandson or his prodigal daughter (Mira Sorvino). Still, the gruff old gramps takes in the youngun’.
Refreshingly, in this self-help age of balmy TV psychologists, grandpa has not had his child-rearing philosophy fettered by trendy blarney: Plenty of work, regular meals and a good dog are the three necessities for proper child-rearing, he reckons.
Screenwriter Michael Baumgarten’s simple story line centers on redemption. In this case, each character — gramps, the kid, the bowser — all have troubled backgrounds to overcome. There’s not much new here plot-wise under the Iowa sun, which is perfectly fine, considering the target audience is fresh-faced kids. Although “Smitty” lurches on its plot chain on occasion, the story is overall winning.
In addition, Baumgarten his leashed his tried-and-true yarn around current economic and social conditions: Smitty, the dog, is an outcast from his home because his owners, like many families today, simply can not afford to feed and maintain a pet.
The well-assembled cast is appealing with Louis Gossett, Jr. shining as a wise and avuncular store owner called Smitty, who inspires the boy to name his dog after him. As the kid, Brandon Tyler Russell is the right mix of mischief and valor, while Peter Fonda is well-cast as a stoic and rigid Midwesterner.
Director David Mickey Evans warmly conveys the strong essence of Middle America and has inspired his technical team to evoke a modern-day Norman Rockwell world, including costume designer Lynn Brannelly-Newman’s apt flannels and production designer April Glover’s kitsch country kitchen.
Venue: Festival de Cannes — Market
Sales: TriCoast Worldwide LLC
Production company: TriCoast
Cast: Peter Fonda, Mira Sorvino, Brandon Tyler Russell, Louis Gossett, Jr., Jason London, Boo Boo Stewart, Lolita Davidovich
Director: David Mickey Evans
Screenwriter: Michael Baumgarten
Producers: Michael Baumgarten, Marcy Levitas Hamilton
Director of photography: Jayson Crothers
Production designer: April Glover
Editor: Stephen Lovejoy
Costume designer: Lynn Brannelly-Newman
Music: Phil Marshall
Editor: Stephen Lovejoy
No rating, 95 minutes
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