Chris Nashawaty picks his favorite flicks for kids with pooches in starring roles, including ''Homeward Bound'' and ''My Dog Skip'' -- plus one for the parents
Credit: My Dog Skip: Kobal Collection

Beagle mania! Great movies starring dogs

We know how exhausting it can be coming up with new ways to say no to your kids every time they hound you for a dog. They’ll promise to do chores around the house. They’ll swear that they’ll feed him and walk him and even tend to the smellier doodies…er, duties. Worst of all, when you’re down to your last hanging thread of resolve, they’ll flash you the look: that wounded, here comes-the-waterworks look that says, ”If I don’t get a puppy, one day you’ll be the heartless villain in a bestselling memoir of emotional abuse.” Well, we’re here to help. Here are five recent canine-movie classics that your kids can enjoy and that you won’t have to clean up after.

Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993, G) Chance (voiced by Michael J. Fox) is a hopped-up bulldog who goes nutty for table scraps; Sassy (Sally Field) is a diva-esque Himalayan cat; and Shadow (Don Ameche) is a wise, old golden retriever. When their doting owners leave them in the care of a ranch-owning friend, they band together and break out of their new digs, attempting to hightail it home — even though home is hundreds of miles away. Funny, touching, and full of hair-raising animal adventure (especially when Sassy falls into a roiling river), Homeward Bound is the best of the litter.

My Dog Skip (2000, PG) Enjoyment of this one may hinge on your tolerance for the pint-size Frankie Muniz, back when he was still (arguably) cute. Based on the childhood reminiscences of Willie Morris, Skip chronicles the relationship between a 9-year-old and his beloved Jack Russell terrier in WWII-era Mississippi. The great cast includes Kevin Bacon, Diane Lane, Luke Wilson, and, of course, Skip — a wiry little scamp who tilts his head sideways whenever anyone tries to talk to him. Full of small-town wisdom and featuring a heartbreaking finale in which the old, arthritic Skip struggles to climb onto Muniz’s bed after he’s grown up and headed off to college, Skip is pure canine Capra.

Beethoven (1992, PG) Charles Grodin never met an exasperated facial expression he couldn’t wear out in five seconds. But trust me, your kids will think this is hilarious. Grodin is a high-strung dad who reluctantly agrees to take in the St. Bernard pup his kids find. Needless to say, the little cutie soon grows into a slobbering, 185-pound Godzilla, knocking over vases, drooling all over Grodin’s lap, and peeing in his briefcase. Before it’s all over, Grodin will have a change of heart and wind up saving Beethoven from a pair of clueless dog-nappers (Oliver Platt and Stanley Tucci, ripping off Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern’s shtick from Home Alone). Be advised: Skip the sequels.

The Adventures of Milo and Otis (1986, G) Who says cats and dogs don’t get along? Milo and Otis traces the unlikely friendship between a frisky orange tabby (that’s Milo) and his pug-nosed pal (Otis). Your kids may wonder about the funny writing on the signs in the background (it was made in Japan), but these interspecies high jinks require no translation, thanks to an Anglicized voiceover by Dudley Moore. The mischeivous Milo gets into trouble when he climbs into a wooden box on a riverbank and is whisked downstream. Otis dog-paddles after him. Many miles later, they try to find their way home, crossing paths with strange new animals (a crab pinches Milo’s nose, Otis rides on the back of a sea turtle). You might want to be prepared for a ”birds and the bees” talk afterward, since Milo and Otis both manage to meet significant others who wind up giving birth pretty graphically.

Air Bud (1997, PG) Nothing to offend anyone here, though. This one’s pure Disney. A 12-year-old boy moves to a new town; his only friend is a golden retriever who ran away from his abusive owner. One day while the boy’s playing basketball, Bud bounces the ball off of his nose and through the hoop. Then he does it again. And again. After the kid gets a spot on the school team, Bud runs onto the court and gets all LeBron James. Soon, he becomes a local sensation and even starts playing in regulation games with a basketball jersey (his number is K-9, naturally) and four little Air Jordans on his paws. It’s totally absurd, but in the most wholesome, milk-drinking way possible. As with Beethoven, skip the sequels. We gave up on the franchise somewhere between Air Bud 2 and Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch.

And one for the parents…
Best in Show (2000, PG-13) Okay, you’ve put the kids to bed, but you still haven’t had your fill of mutt mayhem. May we suggest Christopher Guest’s pants-wettingly hilarious mockumentary? If you’ve already seen it, it only gets better on repeated viewings. If you haven’t, here’s what you need to know: Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock are the neurotic owners of a weimaraner; Eugene Levy (with two left feet, literally) and Catherine O’Hara (with quite the past) are the trainers of a terrier; Michael McKean and John Michael Higgins are a flamingly gay couple with a petite purebred that’s barely better coiffed than they are; Guest is a wannabe ventriloquist with a bloodhound (sans Sherlock Holmes cap and pipe); and Jennifer Coolidge and Jane Lynch are the odd-couple closet lesbians with a prize poodle. All are gunning for the top honors in the annual Mayflower Dog Show — a freak parade of purebred pooches and their persnickety masters. Best of all is Fred Willard as the clueless commentator calling the action. Four paws up, way up!

What are your dog-movie favorites?

Air Bud
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