Good Boy!

(John Hoffman, USA, 2003)


In Carl Dreyer’s severe arthouse classic Ordet (1955), there is a sublime scene in which a dead woman miraculously comes to life. The scene is simplicity itself: the perfectly still corpse, a watchful little girl who suddenly begins smiling, and an agonisingly long pause before the signs of life are fully evident.

All proportions kept, there is an Ordet moment in the kids’ movie Good Boy!, rather more successfully achieved than in the many, sloppy, last-minute-recovery scenes that fill Steven Spielberg’s films.

Owen (Liam Aiken) is a twelve-year-old kid who wants a sense of belonging, while his flighty parents (Kevin Nelson and the wonderful Molly Shannon) can only think of packing, moving and renovating. Owen sets his sights on getting a dog, but is shocked when he realises that Hubble, the stray who enters his life, is a highly evolved alien from another planet.

Between Visitors (2003) and Good Boy!, it was a crowded month for talking animals at the movies. This one has a pleasant time playing on the usual intrigues of its genre: mildly risqué material about bum-sniffing is counterbalanced against some reasonably persuasive moral parable about the need for responsibility, communication and emotional warmth.

Kids’ movies like this tend to pull in two directions simultaneously: on the one hand, they are unforced lessons in socialisation, how to fit into family, school, community; on the other hand, they celebrate the modest transgressions that come with a sense of animalistic anarchy. Writer-director John Hoffman manages to satisfy both needs in his audience.

© Adrian Martin November 2003

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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