Adapted from the memoir of the same name by Willie Morris, the film tells of Willie (Muniz) growing up in rural Mississippi during World War II, and how his beloved Jack Russell terrier, Skipper (Skip for short), changed his life.
This movie contains the following tropes:
- Age-Appropriate Angst: The story is told from Willie's perspective, and the drama comes from Willie's growing pains from shy and awkward to socially confident.
- Anti-Smother Love Talk: Willie's dad protests often that he does not want his son to get the dog he's been begging for. Willie's mom buys him one anyway for his birthday and they have this conversation.Dad: Helen, dogs die, they get sick, they run away from home. They're just a heartbreak waiting to happen.
Helen: So you want to shelter him from life. For how long?
- An Arm and a Leg: Willie's father lost his leg as a result of a wartime injury.
- The Bet: Occurs between Willie and the fellahs before he becomes one of them: he has to spend the night in the local cemetery, next to where an old witch is supposedly buried - if he stays all night, he's one of the gang, but if he runs away, they keep the wartime souvenirs Dink sent him from France.
- A Boy and His X: The entire movie is literally about a boy and his dog.
- Canine Companion: Willie is rarely seen without Skip, although Skip often does walk-abouts on his own around town.
- Dad the Veteran: Willie's father fought in the Spanish Civil War.
- Death by Newbery Medal: The book ends with Willie going off to college while Skipper stays with his parents. As the years go on, he passes away peacefully and Willie returns home afterwards, still thinking about his dog.
- Defeat Means Friendship: Not right away: it takes winning a game of touch football to get the trio of schoolyard bullies to warm up to Willie, but they still tease him throughout the rest of the movie, though it becomes less frequent, to the point he is genuinely one them. They even say their goodbyes to him when he leaves for college.
- Embarrassing Nickname: The bullies give Willie a couple in the beginning - "Sissy" (for his preference of staying indoors and reading) and "Titty Baby" (supposedly for being a momma's boy).
- Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Two of the schoolyard bullies are known only as "Big Boy" and "Spit".
- Everytown, America: The town Willie lives in is basically your quintessential American Dream type town.
- Meaningful Name: Both Big Boy and Spit, considering Big Boy was an overweight kid, and Spit had a spitting habit.
- "Reading Is Cool" Aesop: Inverted, while other boys liked to play outsides, and play sports, among other things, Willie much prefered to stay inside, and read classics like Huckleberry Finn.
- The film was pretty much an amalgam of two of Willie Morris' books: My Dog Skip and My Cat Spit McGhee.
- While the aforementioned cat does not appear in this movie, the character of Spit was named for the cat.
- Toilet-Drinking Dog Gag: One scene features Skip drinking from the toilet.