Thirteen-year-old Matt (Tim Guiry) has a lot of problems. Chief among them is his excessive grief over the death of his mother, a grief so profound he doesn’t even want to hear her name. He cannot accept the love of his new stepmother (Helen Slater), and becomes more isolated as the family moves from Baltimore to a tiny country town. En route to their new home, they find a stray Collie. “Lassie” proves to be just the friend Matt needs as they explore the beautiful countryside together. When Matt uncovers his mother’s childhood diary, it puts him in touch with his long-repressed feelings. Soon, Matt’s behavior turns downright wholesome. He hugs his stepmother, rejects peer pressure to smoke cigarettes, and helps his father turn their run-down farm into a viable sheep ranch. Tension comes from the jealous pranks of their neighbor and his two sons, which culminate in Lassie, Matt and another boy tumbling down a raging river toward some treacherous falls. Though somewhat slow-moving for adults, children will love this heart-warming story of a troubled boy and his smart, brave dog.
By following Matt from ornery rebel to loving son, LASSIE shows that even the toughest kid can become a happy, productive family member. It portrays Matt’s parents as loving and patient, but firm enough to confront his inappropriate behavior. Matt’s budding affection for a neighbor girl is a refreshing example of an innocent young love. On the other hand, the boys next door are caught up in materialism, bad habits and thievery. Unfortunately, they are everything their father wants them to be. In the end, they learn the error of their ways. Some scenes, such as when a wolf threatens Matt and when the kids nearly drown, may be too frightening for very young children who scare easily. Some crude language and exclamatory profanity prevent LASSIE from winning a blue ribbon in the wholesomeness category, but it does deserve a hearty “Atta, girl!”