Poor but happy, young Nello and his grandfather live alone, delivering milk as a livelihood, in the outskirts of Antwerp, a city in Flanders (the Flemish or Dutch-speaking part of modern-day Belgium). They discover a beaten dog (a Bouvier, a large sturdy dog native to Flanders) and adopt it and nurse it back to health, naming it Patrasche, the middle name of Nello's mother Mary, who died when Nello was very young. Nello's mother was a talented artist, and like his mother, he delights in drawing, and his friend Aloise is his model and greatest fan and supporter.
An appreciation for fine art, virtue, and relationships marks this family film set in Europe when Flanders was still Flanders before it was swallowed up by France and Belgium. But parents should be aware that this 95-minute video also features a good dollop of death, beginning with the demise of the hero's mother at the very beginning when he is just a baby. Raised by his impoverished grandfather (Jack Warden), Nello (Jeremy James Kissner) nevertheless finds happiness in the dog he finds left for dead, a neighbor girl who becomes his soul mate, and the talent for drawing he inherits from his mother. He even becomes the protégé of the town's premier painter (Jon Voight). But life holds many bitter lessons for Nello, including the death of his grandfather when he is a teen, betrayal by those he trusts, and his own near-death. Gorgeously shot on location by director and cowriter Kevin Brodie, this movie has many rewards, including, finally, a happy ending. For mature 7-year-olds and up. --Kimberly Heinrichs