Exceptionally hard to track down until its recent appearance on Netflix Instant, Norma Taurog’s Skippy (based on a popular comic strip of the era) is notable for claiming the fourth ever Best Director Oscar back in 1931. That seems like a bit of stretch, but after the first 10 minutes, I expected my response to be much harsher: Skippy‘s first section is cloying, dated in the worst possible way, and awkwardly written. Thankfully, it smooths itself out when Skippy (Jackie Cooper)—the son of wealthy local health supervisor Dr. Skinner (Willard Robinson)—meets Sooky (Robert Coogan), a dirt-poor boy from the “other side of the tracks” (literally and figuratively: he lives in Shantytown). Sooky wants nothing more than three dollars to get his stray dog a proper license, and the kind-hearted-if-mischievous Skippy quickly becomes attached to his new friend and does what he can to help, including sacrificing his dreams of a new bicycle. Unfortunately, Dr. Skinner believes Shantytown should be shut down for sanitary reasons, and Skippy begins to learn that the idealistic way he looks at life isn’t compatible with either adulthood or his family. Skippy is very effective at showing the world through a child’s eyes: issues like class divides, deep pockets and public perceptions are meaningless. All that matters is your friends, no matter where they’re from, and doing the right thing without viewing it through a wider scope. Inasmuch as it’s a good teaching tool, Skippy has some traces of Capra’s masterpiece It’s a Wonderful Life, though it’s nowhere near as rich a film, nor as expertly executed: Skippy‘s ending, while heartwarming, is difficult to buy, and the aforementioned hokum does pop up again from time to time. All in all, though, Skippy slowly won me over as it progressed, and at just 86 minutes, it’s nicely paced and a worthy viewing, both from a historical and a charming perspective. There’s also a very sad moment midway through that captures both the resilience and surviving emotional depth of young children in a tender, believable way, and Cooper’s superb performance in the title role also shouldn’t be overlooked.

64/100