Brace yourself folks, Christmas is around the corner. I know because this Sunday, Hallmark Hall of Fame presents the first of the slew of the holiday TV movies we can expect this season. And Hallmark is not subtle about it. The title kinda gives it away. “A Dog Named Christmas.”
This family-friendly movie (Hallmark’s 237th going back to 1951!) involves a dog and Christmas. (How did you know?) It’s about a developmentally challenged 20-year-old boy and his mother and father, and takes place on a picturesque farm in Kansas. (Actually filmed in Regina, Saskatchewan in July.) What it lacks in surprises, is made up for in fine acting and a heartwarming story.
The movie is based on the best-selling novel by Greg Kincaid who actually lives on a Kansas farm. Todd McCray (Noel Fisher) plays the boy, who despite his limitations, has a special gift with animals. He’s always nursing sick birds and other little creatures back to health and setting them free.
When Todd hears over the radio about the local animal shelter seeking foster homes for their dogs over the Christmas holidays, the plot begins. What transpires changes lives and the entire town forever. (Holiday “Foster a Pet ” programs exist in many parts of rural America.)
Todd’s father, George McCray (Bruce Greenwood) is a Vietnam vet who still carries the physical (leg injury) and emotional scars from the war. He has adult children who have moved away, Todd, his youngest, and a farm to run. The last thing he wants is a dog, even temporarily. George worries that Todd won’t be able to care for the animal and that it will be traumatic for him to return it to the shelter after Christmas.
Todd’s mother, and George’s insightful wife, Mary Ann (Linda Emond) thinks a foster dog would be a learning experience for her challenged son. Obviously, George loses this battle or we have no movie.
A word (actually 93 words) about the fine acting in this movie. Canadian-born Bruce Greenwood is superb in everything he does. My favorite was his brilliant portrayal of JFK in “Thirteen Days.” And Linda Emond was outstanding in “Stop Loss,” playing the mother of a troubled Iraq war hero. Noel Fisher as Todd has perhaps the most difficult role and rises to the occasion. But back to Kansas, or should I say Saskatchewan?
With the absolutely clear understanding that the dog will go back the day after Christmas, Todd and George go to the shelter. Todd falls in love with a yellow lab and decides to name him Christmas, at least for the short stay with the McCray family who are expecting their adult children and grandchildren for the holiday.
Interspersed in the farm locale are the occasional and somewhat violent flashbacks to Vietnam. In many ways, the movie is not about a dog, or a mentally challenged boy, but George McCray, who has shut down emotionally. There are some plot twists here that I won’t spoil for you.
The movie is directed by Peter Werner from a teleplay by Jenny Wingfield. The executive producer is Brent Shields who did “The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler,” one of my favorite Hallmark Hall of Fame movies, while the producer is Andrew Gottlieb who also produced another of my Hallmark favorites, “The Russell Girl.”
“A Dog Named Christmas” is perhaps too predictable in many places, but in some it’s not, including the ending. Either way, it’s one of those rare movies where parents will be able to sit down and enjoy it with their children. It airs Sunday, Nov. 29, on CBS, 9-11 p.m.
Jack also writes the “Laughing Matters” column, which appears every Friday. He can be reached at Jackneworth@yahoo.com.