Gene Siskel passionately hated this movie, giving it one star. And I genuinely don’t get it. I mean, it’s not something I’d seek out, but jeez. He was mad that it’s set in an amorphous time you can’t actually determine from the clues, for one thing, and certainly that’s true. But that’s not something to get mad about. Honestly, there are a fair number of contradictions there. The kids dress like it’s the ’70s; one of the characters drives a horse cart. But honestly, I know that wasn’t completely uncommon in the rural South, so I’m a lot less fussed about it than Gene was.
Lonnie McNeil (Johnny Whitaker) is the son of a dog trainer. He’s fond of a dog (Rolph von Wolfgang, apparently?) his father is disgusted by. He and his best friend, Text Tomlin (George Spell), decide they’re going to train it to be a champion pointer. His father, Harve (Earl Holliman), doesn’t think there’s a chance of it, but Lonnie and Text are determined that the dog, whom they name Moreover, is going to be every bit as good as Harve’s Silver Belle. And indeed, he seems to be. It’s just that, among other issues, they can’t break him of eating eggs.
Now, some of the movie’s problems clearly come from the fact that this is a remake of a ’40s film based on a 1939 short story by a Southerner. So you do have certain things like how Text’s mother, Charity (Beah Richards) always refers to Harve as “Mr. Harve” and he just calls her Charity. And there’s sneaky Willie Dorsey (Godfrey Cambridge), a schemer and trader who works at a gas station not selling gas. On the other hand, the kids refer to each other as partners, and they genuinely seem to be. They work together. They’re best friends.
This is your standard Boy And His Animal movie, for the most part, and there’s nothing really wrong with that. It’s actually the last of the genre that Disney would make, feeling that it had pretty well run its course. I’d say it’s not as noteworthy as the other movie in the genre that Whitaker made for Disney; he was Napoleon in Napoleon and Samantha. (And then he went on to be in A Talking Cat!?!, because why not.) So A Boy And His Lion, which is slightly more memorable than A Boy And His Dog And His Best Friend. This one doesn’t even have Michael Douglas.
I’m honestly not much of a dog person. This is shocking to most people, I guess, but there it is. So Boy And His Dog movies aren’t generally my thing. But it also means I don’t understand why it’s so shameful for the dog to eat biscuits. I guess because he steals them? Certainly I get that eating the eggs is bad. And the going after sheep that got the dog’s father killed. Those, I get. But on the one hand, it seems to imply that a dog that eats anything other than meat is bad, but dog food is explicitly referenced. I don’t know.
There are a couple of subplots that I’m not really going into here—the idea, for example, that the boys basically throw the competition they’re in because they believe Harve will lose his job if their dog beats his. Honestly, that’s another place where the racial politics Aren’t Great, because it’s so obviously a joke that I don’t get why any adult wouldn’t realize that. The boys, yes, but not other adults. And Mr. Eben (Clifton James) seems to have an animosity toward the entire McNeil family that I don’t get. If Gene had complained about those, he’d have me a little more on his side. Mostly, though, this is a slight movie that isn’t bad watching, if you don’t have anything better to do.