Director: Dennis Fallon
Although the poster made it look like Flicka 2 with its depiction of a young girl and a beautiful horse, quickly we realized that instead of a contemporary pop friendly soundtrack of girl power songs and Tim McGraw, we have a rather somber tale of a grieving child and a dog named Atticus with plenty of references to Harper Lee’s beloved To Kill a Mockingbird.
And although like My Dog Skip, director Dennis Fallon and writer Douglas Delaney’s International Family Film Festival winner All Roads Lead Home is based on a true story, yet Roads is comprised of the thematically unlikely and none too family friendly storyline about euthanasia and no kill shelters. And far more unsettling, Fallon’s work from Waldo West which aspires to be a “feel-good” drama about euthanasia comes with the ultimate moral that sometimes for animals and humans alike, it’s best to just pull the plug-- but only when absolutely necessary.
While of course, it’s hard to disagree, the well-intentioned but off-putting film begins nicely but in its final act evolves into something far too upsetting for its target audience as we learn the brutal truth surrounding the death of the mother of our twelve year old heroine Belle Lawlor (Vivien Cardone) who perishes in a vehicle accident shortly into the film.
Exquisite cinematography and a nice old-fashioned feel help move the film along in its TV movie like approach as Belle, still coming to grips with the horrific event two years later, has begun growing apathetic in her studies. After a bold prank finds Belle releasing dogs from the pound in order to save them from death, her father-- an animal control officer himself with similar convictions-- decides that it may be best to leave Belle in the care of her cantankerous, hardworking, cowboy grandfather Hank Banyon (Peter Coyote) for an “attitude adjustment.”
However, little does Belle realize that her father Cody (Jason London) is also prone to bending the rules, renting out rooms at Peter Boyle’s old, dilapidated Sky Line Hotel along with other sensitive animal workers like Milo (Patton Oswalt) and a beautiful vet, as they sneak in a “convention of critters” in their own version of a no-kill shelter. As Belle struggles with hard labor and learning the way of life at Banyon Farms, she begins openly questioning the decisions of the workers when it comes to getting rid of weaker members of the litter of pups and has a hard time adjusting to her grandfather’s abrasive personality.
Predictably, the mourning Hank begins to melt, although it takes time when he’s constantly confronted with a living and breathing reminder of his daughter in the pretty, independent minded Belle and we realize that all relatives involved (from Belle to Cody to Hank) need their own time and space to heal on their own terms. And while it’s indeed refreshing to see a film about a grandfather and his granddaughter (since most family films are sort of gender divided as a boy comes of age with his male hero or vice versa), as an adult who even had a problem with some of the content and situations being addressed in this admirable but far too frank message movie, I wondered if children would also be a bit too bothered by its approach and subject matter. Probably best to be previewed by a parent before bringing along the children and also maybe better suited for the PG-13 and up crowd, it’s a high quality if overly long film that is especially memorable considering that it contains the last filmed performance by actor Peter Boyle, to whom the film is dedicated.