Saving Shiloh cover
STUDIO: Warner Home Video
MSRP: $19.98
RUNNING TIME: 90 Minutes
"Open Your Heart" music video
"An Interview with Shiloh"
Interviews with the Cast and Filmmakers

The Pitch

Lassie by Miss Manners

The Humans

Jason Dolley, Scott Wilson (In Cold Blood), Gerald McRaney (Major Dad), Ann Dowd (Apt Pupil), Taylor Momsen (How the Grinch Stole Christmas)

"I’m afraid I see an early death for you, on or around your fourteenth birthday…"

The Nutshell

In the "suspenseful conclusion" of America’s second favorite beagle’s trilogy, his conscientious teenage master Marty (Dolley) tries to reach out to Shiloh’s abusive former owner Judd Travers (Wilson), a cantankerous old hermit. Though still mistrusted by the small town community, Judd has become almost civil following a traumatic car accident. However, doubts are raised once more when Judd is fingered as a suspect in the disappearance of a local man. With a little help from the trusty Shiloh, Marty sets out to determine whether Judd has truly left his shady past behind.

The Lowdown

Recently family pictures such as the Harry Potters and Shreks have become huge earners at the box office by incorporating dazzling visuals or sly humor that appeal to all ages, so it’s almost a shock to encounter a picture like Saving Shiloh that is exclusively focused on providing wholesome entertainment for young’uns. It’s a stretch to try to view films through the eyes of an 8 year old, and the best I can do is compare them to movies I enjoyed at that age.

"Er, well done Shiloh, but next time try to leave something for Forensics, huh?"

I’m certainly at a loss to explain Roger Ebert’s three and a half star rating for what is at best a modest cinematic achievement. Perhaps he was reminded of beloved canines that have long since buried their final bones. For myself I tried to hold the film up to favorite childhood novel Where the Red Fern Grows, and found it to be a kinder and blander variant.

Undeniably Saving Shiloh, based on the novel by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, will appeal to parents with its strong moral compass. In an age where children’s films tend to focus on causing trouble to humorous effect, it’s a nice change of pace to have one that is all about doing the right thing. Many right things as it turns out, including helping others in need, being respectful of elders, steering clear of stereotypes, and perhaps most valuably, harmoniously coexisting with siblings. It almost reaches the point of overkill, and your child may require reassurance that you haven’t slipped them educational programming in the guise of entertainment.

Now that’s what I call doggie treats.

Otherwise the best thing the film has going for it is Wilson, whose crotchety and sometimes menacing Judd is surprisingly deep and morally ambivalent for a family vehicle. The mean old man is a hoary cliché, but this one is mean for understandable reasons, and his heart is neither completely hardened nor instantly melted by human kindness. Due to a reasonably clever plot, we are not sure for a long time whether he might be a cold-blooded murderer. One assumes that a generally tame children’s film would not feature such a character, and yet he does get into drunken barroom brawls and beat his dogs. This ambiguity keeps both Marty and the audience at least mildly on edge, and causes one to wonder why the former’s parents allow him to hang out with a murder suspect.

The other obvious positive is the cute as a button Shiloh, who easily walks away with all of his scenes. Unfortunately, the title notwithstanding, his role is little more than a meaty cameo, as the plot is far more concerned with Judd and Marty’s relationship. If this film has a highlight, it’s Shiloh’s takedown of two thieves in a grocery store. He leads them on a wild chase ending in a storage room, where they get locked inside to wait for the police. There’s no CGI or stunt doubles for this tough dog.

Trials for the 20 meter Dachshund toss.

However, those two performances cannot save the film from the rest of the cast’s extreme woodenness and the equally lifeless dialogue. The children are completely flat, ranging from Dolley’s thorough mediocrity to his screen sisters’ utter lack of acting ability. The youngest often delivers lines while staring off screen at what one presumes is a nearby cue card. Increasingly resembling a blond Christina Ricci, Dolley’s pal Momsen is not quite as flat these days, but the wide-eyed charm she displayed as a child in Grinch has yet to translate into adult screen presence. Taking over Michael Moriarty’s role as Dolley’s father, McRaney looks embarrassed to be there and less than motivated.

I haven’t seen Shiloh’s previous adventures, but I’m willing to wager Saving Shiloh will appeal to their fans. Otherwise it’s rather average if enriching family entertainment that will bore anyone over the age of ten. I do hope it’s a big seller though, so some studio suit will finally get it in his head to produce a quality version of Red Fern. And by quality I mean a distinct lack of Dave Matthews.

"I was the first Simon, dammit! The FIRST!!"

The Package

The DVD cover is attractive, but in true DTV fashion the prominent featuring of the photogenic but only briefly appearing Shiloh is rather misleading. The video is a bit grainy, giving the impression the film was shot a decade ago.

The limited extras begin with a music video for the "inspirational" closing credits tune "Open You Heart," which incorporates film clips with production footage. Next is an interview with the dog himself, in which Shiloh "talks" about his experiences training to perform such tricks as climbing a slide and diving off a pier. The disc concludes with interviews with the cast and filmmakers, who primarily pat each other on the back for a job well done.


5 out of 10