Most live-action movies about animals end up as disposable, mind-numbing entertainment full of buffoonish human characters, unnerving CGI, and poop jokes. And the animals usually sound suspiciously like overpaid celebrities.

But critics are responding to the latest remake of Lassie with praise and enthusiasm … in their own famously pun-oriented fashion. You won't have to look far to find quotes like "Bow WOW!" and similar canine kudos.

Let's drop the puns and say it straight: This feature by Charles Sturridge will delight viewers of all ages, and is bound to become a classic.

Lassie isn't just better than the other films currently being marketed for all ages. It's a rare work of substance, simplicity, and grace that deserves to be mentioned among the best features crafted for younger viewers in the last twenty years, including Mike Newell's Into the West, John Sayles' The Secret of Roan Inish, Alfonso Cuaró n's A Little Princess, Agnieszka Holland's The Secret Garden, Carroll Ballard's Duma, and Andrew Davis's Holes. Sticking to the basic plot of Eric Wright's 1940 novel Lassie Come Home, this film returns Lassie to her native Britain, where she belongs to the Carraclough family in a Yorkshire mining town.

Sturridge has made one of those rare family films that refuses to insult the intelligence of its young viewers. It flatters them with honest depictions of mature grownups, intelligent children, and real hardships. What is more, it does not use cheap tactics in persuading adult viewers to pay attention. It stands apart from the typical, frantic family features that stoop to including sexual innuendo and pop-culture references (as if that's what adults really want).

While it does have scenes of outrageous whimsy—Lassie's ...

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