You can’t teach an old dog new tricks — and why bother, when he’s a movie star? “Saving Shiloh,” the third in the dog-hero trilogy drawn from the Phyllis Reynolds Naylor books, may be naive and narratively simple, but it’s prime fare for the always underserved family aud. Look for minivans to be crowding mall parking lots.
The old adage about working with children and animals doesn’t seem to have affected veteran Scott Wilson, who returns to the series as Judd Travers, curmudgeonly former pet-abuser and all-around suspect when anything goes wrong in the Midwestern town that’s home to the Preston family and Shiloh the beagle. There’s been a murder, and Judd’s name is mentioned; there’s a rash of break-ins and Judd’s name is mentioned.
Only Marty Preston (Jason Dolley), who rescued Shiloh from Judd during the dark days of “Shiloh,” believes in redemption, and that Judd has been its beneficiary. Wilson gives a performance that may be a bit too nuanced for this film, but it’s gratifying to watch.
Maintaining domestic virtues and displaying strength of character are the lessons of “Saving Shiloh”: Marty’s dad, Ray (Gerald McRaney), is kind but firm; Mom (Ann Dowd), is a no-nonsense homemaker who always has the right word to correct Marty and his sisters. Dowd and McRaney seem more like grandparent material than the mom and dad of such young children, but everything else in the film is spelled out, as if with overcooked alphabet soup; this film is accessible to the youngest of children.
The camera work by Lex du Pont is a bit unsteady, and not purposefully so; the film has the flatness of an old postcard, and even the funkiest old dirt road seems to have been raked in anticipation of filming. But “Saving Shiloh” — in which Shiloh himself is more of a supporting canine than top dog — knows its audiences and will be fetching them to theaters.