Cheers and tears for boys and their beloved pets

Friday, July 14th 2000, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

It's a boys' life this weekend on video with two films about boys and their clever animal friends.

My Dog Skip (Warner, $22.96 cassette; $24.98 DVD) was a hit last winter after a newspaper ad showing a dog looking expectantly at a toilet bowl got people chuckling and then intrigued enough to troop off to theaters.

Based on a true story, My Dog Skip is a tearjerker about a boy's lifelong devotion to a little dog. The pup is a sort of super-seer, Mr. Fixit super-dog. It is played on screen by a Jack Russell terrier, although in real life it was a less photogenic breed.

In his short lifetime, Skip brings young Willie Morris together with his bullying classmates, warms the heart of Willie's stern father, brings shy Willie together with the prettiest girl in school, helps rout a pair of mooonshiners, teaches Willie lessons about loyalty and friendship, tries to solve Willie's baseball slump and overcomes racism in a Mississippi town in the 1940s.

No wonder the now middle-aged Willie, who narrates the film (actually the voice of Harry Connick Jr.), remembers the pup with awe and affection. "Sometimes it was as if he possessed the wisdom of a creature as old as time," enthuses Willie.

Although the film tends to get syrupy the longer it goes on, My Dog Skip has a lot of pluses. Frankie Muniz, of TV's Malcolm in the Middle, has a natural and unaffected style that makes Willie's hurts and joys touching. And Enzo, who plays Skip's major scenes (along with five other dogs), is a precocious scene stealer. In one of the movie's funniest moments, he tries to conquer that toilet bowl for a drink. Later he "drives" a car down Main Street. A wonder dog indeed.

Also out this week is The Real Macaw (Paramount, ($19.95), a film that got little exposure in the United States, although it stars veteran actor Jason Robards as an eccentric grandpa and has a winning formula in its tale of a boy and a blue and gold parrot named Mac, who can speak and reason better than a lot of humans.

The 149-year-old Mac was the only eyewitness when a pirate buried his golden treasure on a remote South Pacific island long, long ago. More than a century later Mac has been given to Sam (Jamie Croft), an Australian schoolboy, who is startled to discover that his bird buddy can do more than just parrot human speech. (John Goodman provides the bird's voice.)

Sam is even more startled to learn that the bird knows the whereabouts of a fortune in gold that's buried under a palm tree on an uninhabited island. Unfortunately, when Sam and the parrot run away from home to find the treasure, they quickly find that the "remote" island is now a prime tourist resort destination. In order to get under the palm tree, Sam has to crawl through a labyrinth of air conditioning ducts.

Sam wants to find the fortune to help his grandpa pay off a mountain of debts. But a dangerous scalawag of a museum-based professor (who dresses like a slick huckster so one wonders what kind of professor he really is) is also aware of the bird's talents and wants the gold for himself.

The Real Macaw is an old-fashioned adventure yarn with modern-day trappings. Although the heavy Aussie accents are probably why the film wasn't shown widely in the U.S., it's lots of fun and bright, and I think young people will enjoy it.

New on DVD

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, starring William Shatner and Ricardo Montalban together at last, comes to disk this week on Paramount for $29.99. Paramount also has put Volumes 13 and 14 of Star Trek: The Original Series on disks at $29.99 each.

A small-town sheriff assumes a slain man's identity to solve his murder in the thriller White Sands, starring Willem Dafoe and Mickey Rourke.

Emilio Estevez, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo and Mick Jagger star in Freejack, a time-travel tale about a team of bodysnatchers out to kidnap a healthy body so that its mind can be transferred into the body of an ailing rich man. Warner has both these films at $24.98 each.

Paramount has Searching for Bobby Fischer, the story of a young chess prodigy, at $29.99.

A fantasy, a western and a murder trial are featured on Columbia TriStar's disks this month. The studio has released Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger at $29.95, with McKenna's Gold and the murder trial thriller Anatomy of a Murder at $24.95 each. Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger has also been packaged with The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad as a three-disk collection for $77.95.

The 1971 Italian film Frightened Woman, a tale of sadism and love, has been released by First Run Features at $29.95. To order, phone (800) 488-6652.

Chew on this

It's the silver anniversary of Steven Spielberg's classic shark movie, Jaws, and Universal is celebrating by releasing the 25-year-old movie in a collector's edition on DVD ($26.98) and as a two-cassette video ($19.98). The disk contains a widescreen version of the film; the cassette has it as a full-frame feature, although a widescreen cassette version has long been available. Both DVD and cassette contain a "making of" featurette, deleted scenes, outtakes and the movie's original theatrical trailer.

Meanwhile, to capitalize on the Jaws release, National Geographic has come out with Great White Shark: Truth Behind the Legend , which highlights an expedition to Australia and South Africa by Jaws author Peter Benchley in search of the predators' natural habitats. The tape, selling for $19.98, also includes a behind-the-scenes look into new research on shark intelligence and behavior.

Life Down Under

National Geographic has two titles about Australia's wonders and wildlife -- Australia's Great Barrier Reef and Australia's Kangaroos -- at $19.98 each.

Still more Trek

Volumes 12 to 16 of the Star Trek Voyager series have been released by Paramount at $14.95 each on cassette.


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