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"A DOG OF FLANDERS"
(1999) (Jeremy James Kissner, Jack Warden) (PG)

Alcohol/
Drugs
Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Frightening/
Tense Scenes
Guns/
Weapons
Moderate Mild Extreme *Heavy Minor
Imitative
Behavior
Jump
Scenes
Music
(Scary/Tense)
Music
(Inappropriate)
Profanity
Mild None Moderate None Minor
Sex/
Nudity
Smoking Tense Family
Scenes
Topics To
Talk About
Violence
Minor Minor Moderate Moderate Moderate


QUICK TAKE:
Drama: An early 19th century European boy hopes to become an artist and win enough money from a contest to escape the poverty in which he lives.
PLOT:
In early 19th century Belgium, Nello Daas (JESSE JAMES) is a young orphan being raised by his grandfather, Jehan (JACK WARDEN), who, along with his grandson, delivers milk to the local townsfolk including William (BRUCE McGILL) the blacksmith. While on their route one day, Nello and Jehan come across an injured Bouvier that was beaten by his former owner. With Jehan's approval, Nello adopts, tends for and then raises the dog, named Patrasche, as his own.

Dirt poor and unable to read or write, Nello has inherited the gift for art from his late mother, and enjoys drawing portraits of his best friend, Aloise (MADYLINE SWEETEN). That's despite her successful miller father, Carl Cogez (STEVEN HARTLEY), not being thrilled with her choice of friends. Nonetheless, and having learned that his late mother was a fan of acclaimed hometown painter, Peter Paul Rubens, Nello goes to see the artist's statue and happens to meet art instructor Michel La Grande (JON VOIGHT) who encourages the boy's artistic gift.

Several years pass and Nello (JEREMY JAMES KISSNER) has grown up and become more of an accomplished artist. He's also still friends with Aloise (FARREN MONET), and while her father still doesn't like their friendship, it doesn't bother the girl's mother, Anna (CHERYL LADD).

Several hardships, including a death, being blamed for a costly fire, and having to deal with Stephens (ANDREW BICKNELL), a malicious landlord, however, force Nello to place his bets on winning a local art contest and the hope for a better future for himself.

WILL KIDS WANT TO SEE IT?
Younger kids may, but a live-action period piece without special effects, zany characters or wild action may have a hard time finding an audience in today's marketplace.
WHY THE MPAA RATED IT: PG
For one scene of mild violence, mild language and thematic elements.
CAST AS ROLE MODELS:
  • JEREMY JAMES KISSNER plays a dirt poor and uneducated boy who's a good kid with a passion for art who must overcome living a difficult life.
  • JACK WARDEN plays his wise and loving grandfather who raises him from a toddler.
  • JON VOIGHT plays a local artist who takes Nello under his wing and hopes to inspire and instruct the boy to become an even better artist.
  • FARREN MONET plays Nello's best friend, a local girl who's upset when her father won't let the two see each other.
  • STEVEN HARTLEY plays that father, a hardworking and successful miller who looks down on Nello and his poverty despite coming from a similar background.
  • CHERYL LADD plays Aloise's loving mother who doesn't support her husband's view of Nello.
  • BRUCE McGILL plays the local blacksmith who's taken a liking to Nello and helps him.
  • ANDREW BICKNELL plays the contemptuous landlord who repeatedly threatens to and finally does evict Nello from his home.
  • CAST, CREW, & TECHNICAL INFO

    HOW OTHERS RATED THIS MOVIE


    OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
    If you're going to set out to tell a children's story, you certainly can't go wrong with the old "a boy and his dog" plot. A time-tested narrative, such tales have entertained kids for generations through books, TV shows and films such as "Old Yeller," the many incarnations of "Lassie" and even the "Air Bud" films.

    Another such story is "A Dog of Flanders." Originally written in 1872 by English/Italian writer Maria Louise de la Ramée, the story has seen been translated into other languages and filmed several times for the big screen, most recently in 1959 (where Nello was played by young David Ladd, who later went on to marry Cheryl Ladd who appears in this film).

    Now forty years later, the fifth such version of this story hits theaters and the results are a mixed bag. While I'm not familiar with the original story or any of its latter versions -- whether written or filmed -- evidently writer/director Kevin Brodie ("Delta Pi," "Treacherous") and cowriter Robert Singer (a TV director/producer) have taken some artistic liberties with the story. Some character changes have been made and the original, but apparently not-so-happy ending has been modified to make the picture a bit more kid friendly.

    While literary purists may balk at such modifications, the true litmus test for the film is how well it plays to its target audience and their parents who may be hoping finally to have a decent family film at their disposal.

    With the recent drought of good live-action films for kids -- notwithstanding the terrific "Fly Away Home" -- it's nice to see a film that employs neither the "Home Alone" precocious kid and related slapstick elements, nor the idiotic nature of films such as "Dudley Do-Right." That said, the question that remains is whether kids weaned on such material will want to see or be entertained by a period piece about a decent and thoughtful kid. While one would hope the answer to be an emphatic "yes," they may find many moments of it to be rather boring. It's also obvious the film will probably find more of an audience once it's out of the theaters and on video.

    Although the film has a lush look with its great production values, features some decent performances and generally has a solid, if somewhat episodic plot, all of those combined elements are undermined by the filmmakers' approach at telling the story. Despite a few moments standing out as memorable, they never add up to create an all-encompassing, cohesive feel.

    While the first two-thirds of the film unfold in a decent, if clearly not spectacular fashion, the last part of the film completely unravels. With a series of linearly connected but fractured scenes appearing, all coated with a heavy dose of thick and syrupy, and quite clearly mawkish qualities, the ending may moisten the eyes of those who weep over sentimental greeting cards, but most likely will induce the gag reflex in everyone else. As such, the horribly executed, overly manipulative and generally hokey ending nearly derails everything the film was trying to accomplish up to that point.

    To make matters worse and despite its title, the film doesn't make good use of the boy/dog relationship. Although a few scenes are focused on the two of them, the pooch is later relegated to minor supporting character status as the story switches gears and focuses more on Nello's various trials and tribulations, few of which involved the dog.

    While that's not a cinematic crime in and upon itself, the replacement elements, while somewhat decent in their own episodic way, don't add much to what should have been a highly imaginative piece. Kids may find some of it interesting, but adults will probably view most of the proceedings as trite and the whole "mystery" regarding the identity of Nello's father as an easy and predictable case to crack.

    The performances, while lining up on either side of the standard good character, bad character fence found in many stories aimed kids, are decent, although some are better and more believable than others. The best belongs to Jon Voight ("Varsity Blues," "The General") as the caring and understanding artist/instructor who wishes to help Nello. The film's other father figure, played by Jack Warden ("Heaven Can Wait," "Shampoo") is good, but is absent from the picture for long stretches of time and often feels a bit too cliched and American when present.

    That's definitely true for the young boys who play Nello at various ages. While Jeremy James Kissner ("Great Expectations") and Jesse James ("Message in a Bottle") deliver decent performances, they feel more like outsiders than inherently credible characters. Although it's possible that was intentionally done (to give them even more of an alienated aura), at times it grates with the rest of the cast and overall production. Nonetheless, they manage to create a likeable enough character to overcome such problems.

    The rest of the performances are generally okay, with Cheryl Ladd (TV's "Charlie's Angels," many made for TV movies) and Steven Hartley ("Christopher Columbus: The Discovery") coming off as believable as the stern father and his more accepting wife, while little Madyline Sweeten gets the "cute as a button" award for her portrayal of young Aloise.

    Well-intentioned but flawed, the picture isn't horrible by any means, but clearly isn't a great children's film. Although it's a refreshing and welcomed change to see a good lead character with a talent and the drive to perfect it, the film's episodic nature and complete derailing in its overly preachy and exceptionally mawkish third act will make it a tough pill for most adult viewers to swallow. And without capitalizing enough on the boy/dog relationship, the film may similarly disappoint younger viewers. Decent, but destined for a quick trip to the video shelves, we give "A Dog of Flanders" a 4.5 out of 10.

    OUR WORD TO PARENTS:
    The following is a quick look at the content found in this PG-rated drama that's aimed at kids. Several violent scenes -- including a dog briefly being beaten to the point of near death and its malicious owner later coming back, threatening people and then being killed -- as well as several family-based deaths may be unsettling, disturbing or frightening to kids. Of course, all of that depends on their age, level of maturity and tolerance for such material, but some kids at our screening did seem upset and/or scared during such moments.

    In direct relation to some of those scenes and others, several characters have extreme cases of bad attitudes. One of those characters is drunk in one scene, and the sight of him and a young maiden in a barn where she's apparently getting dressed heavily implies some sort of undefined hanky panky between them, although such a notion will probably go over many kids' heads.

    Beyond all of that and some minor profanity, the rest of the film is relatively void of any major objectionable content. Nonetheless, and considering that the film is aimed at younger kids, but has some dark edges around it, you may want to take a closer look at the listed content should you still be concerned about the film's appropriateness.


    ALCOHOL OR DRUG USE
  • When another artist sees Michel talking with Nello who has his milk wagon with him, that man states that artists of their caliber should be drinking cognac and not milk.
  • We see Cogez and Stephens drinking ale where the former states that he's not going to conduct any business after having had that much ale, and the latter is obviously intoxicated.
  • Someone in an audience yells out a comment about "cold ale" during an art competition speech.
  • BLOOD/GORE
  • We see what looks like a little bit of blood on the dog's face after his owner has beaten him.
  • We briefly see some bloody cuts of meat/carcasses in a butcher shop.
  • The dog's former owner may have some blood on his face after he's killed.
  • There's some blood on Christ in Rubens' painting "The Taking Down of Christ" that Nello eventually gets to see.
  • DISRESPECTFUL/BAD ATTITUDE
  • We hear and then see the dog's former owner beating the Bouvier until he's severely injured and lying limp on the ground.
  • Stephens, the landlord, is a mean and nasty fellow who threatens to evict Jehan and Nello and later does just that to the boy after he's all alone (saying "Don't blame me for your miserable life, boy. Blame your mother"). He also lets someone else take blame for a fire that destroys a barn. He then flirts with Cogez's domestic help (telling her, "You look very beautiful" and apparently fools around with her later in a barn) and then sternly tells his wife, "Don't you ever tell me how to do my business, woman."
  • Some viewers may not like a scene where a circus fortune teller reads Nello and Aloise's palms, telling them about their future.
  • Aloise and Nello sleep overnight on the grounds of a circus without telling their families where they were going to be (Aloise gets into trouble for that).
  • Aloise's father has both toward Nello for 1) being a poor kid, 2) thinking he set the miller's barn on fire when he has no proof to back up such claims, and 3) thus forbidding his daughter from seeing Nello.
  • Others, who are responsible or know the culprit behind the barn burning let Nello take the blame for it.
  • FRIGHTENING SCENES
  • Depending on a child's age, level of maturity and tolerance for such material, the following may or may not be unsettling, suspenseful or downright frightening to them.
  • The sight of Nello's mother carrying him through a raging snowstorm at night and then dying in front of him and Jehan may be unnerving and/or scary to some kids.
  • We hear and then see the dog's former owner beating the Bouvier until he's severely injured and lying limp on the ground.
  • The dog's former owner (whose disheveled appearance and demeanor may also scare kids) shows up and tells Nello that the dog is his and that he's going to take him away. Nello tells the dog to run and a brief chase ensues through the town. The former owner then grabs Nello by the shirt, throws him to the ground and threatens to cut out his heart. He then uses his knife to cut the dog free from the cart he was pulling. William then shows up to help and the former owner tries to strike him with the knife. He's then disarmed and Michel shows up and pushes this man to the street. The owner then grabs a hatchet and tries to attack Michel with it (including a shot seen from Michel's point of view where the deranged man is coming at him swinging the hatchet in slow motion). The dog jumps on the owner, however, causing him to land on his back where he's apparently killed (we see the owner lying wide-eyed on his back, all from an angle behind and below him).
  • A nighttime scene where a barn burns down and the locals gather trying to extinguish it may be suspenseful to some kids.
  • As some suspenseful music plays, we see Jehan having a heart attack and then dying.
  • Scenes where Nello walks through a blowing snowstorm at night, falls face first into the snow and doesn't move, and later appears to be freezing to death (and then dies, including an out of body experience and Nello's funeral showing him in a casket that's closed -- but in the end doesn't really happen) may be unnerving or scary to some kids.
  • GUNS/WEAPONS
  • Knife/Hatchet: Used by the dog's former owner to threaten several people.
  • IMITATIVE BEHAVIOR
  • After Nello says that he doesn't go to school because he helps his grandfather, he then adds, "Besides, who cares about books anyway?"
  • William briefly gargles with some milk before swallowing it.
  • Nello and Aloise (as youngsters) get into a dirt/mud slinging contest (throwing it at each other).
  • Some circus performers juggle, balance or otherwise manipulate burning sticks during a performance.
  • JUMP SCENES
  • None.
  • MUSIC (SCARY/TENSE)
  • A moderate amount of suspenseful music plays during several scenes.
  • MUSIC (INAPPROPRIATE)
  • None.
  • PROFANITY
  • At least 3 damns, 3 uses of "Oh dear God" and 1 use each of Dear God" and "Oh my God" as exclamations.
  • SEX/NUDITY
  • Evidently Nello's mother had an affair with a local painter and had her son out of wedlock.
  • In a flashback, we see a drunk Stephen lying back in the hay of a barn and lighting his pipe while Cogez's domestic helper appears to be buttoning her blouse (our view is from behind her), thus suggesting/implying that they were fooling around to some unknown extent.
  • SMOKING
  • Stephens smokes a pipe several times.
  • TENSE FAMILY SCENES
  • As a toddler, Nello's mother dies in front of him and her father, Jehan. From that point on and throughout the movie (including scenes set in a cemetery), Nello and/or Jehan talk about the deceased.
  • At one point, Nello asks his grandfather, "You're never going to die and leave me like mother, are you?
  • We see the grandfather die and then see another funeral scene.
  • Cogez and Anna have some brief and mild fights over him preventing Aloise from seeing Nello.
  • TOPICS TO TALK ABOUT
  • The fact that while Nello may be dirt poor and uneducated, he's a good kid who pursues his talent and goals.
  • A sequence where Nello seems to die, have an out of body experience, meets his dead mother and then sees his own funeral -- including himself in a casket, may be confusing or upsetting to some kids.
  • Cruelty to animals.
  • Why Nello never went to school.
  • Why Aloise's father forbids her to be friends with Nello.
  • VIOLENCE
  • We hear and then see the dog's former owner beating the Bouvier until he's severely injured and lying limp on the ground.
  • The dog accidently knocks a church offering receptacle/stand to the floor where it breaks open and spills out the money inside it.
  • The dog's former owner (whose disheveled appearance and demeanor may also scare kids) shows up and tells Nello that the dog is his and that he's going to take him away. Nello tells the dog to run and a brief chase ensues through the town. The former owner then grabs Nello by the shirt, throws him to the ground and threatens to cut out his heart. He then uses his knife to cut the dog free from the cart he was pulling. William then shows up to help and the former owner tries to strike him with the knife. He's then disarmed and Michel shows up and pushes this man to the street. The owner then grabs a hatchet and tries to attack Michel with it (including a shot seen from Michel's point of view where the deranged man is coming at him swinging the hatchet in slow motion). The dog jumps on the owner, however, causing him to land on his back where he's apparently killed (we see the owner lying wide-eyed on his back, all from an angle behind and below him).
  • A barn burns down.
  • Aloise's father purposefully breaks the puppet Nello gave her as a birthday gift.



  • Reviewed August 22, 1999 / Posted August 27, 1999

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