Based on the comic strip, Skippy (Jackie Cooper) is a cheeky, good hearted boy who loves to find loop holes in his parents’ rules. He whines and acts lazily with his mother, but when his father calls, Skippy shapes up. His father is the local health supervisor and provides well for his family, they live in quite a nice house. But Skippy finds that the best fun is on the other side of the railroad tracks, in the shantytown.
His father tells him time and again not to go there, but Skippy find the shantytown fascinating. “Ain’t it elegant?” he says as he crosses the tracks. He becomes friends with Sooky (Robert Coogan) a poor little boy who is hiding a dog, Penny, from his mother. When Sooky’s dog is caught by the neighborhood dog catcher (father of the freckle-faced bully), Skippy takes it upon himself to help Sooky raise enough money to buy the a dog license in time to save Penny.
Skippy has more than Sooky’s dog to worry about. His father is leading a campaign to tear down the shanty town. Not only is Skippy worried about what will happen to his friends over there, but starts losing faith in his own father at a very young age. It’s that part of the story that can really pull at your heart.
It’s not often you find such a strong leading actor at such a young age. Little Jackie Cooper was the youngest person ever to be nominated in a lead acting category at just nine years old. Whether he’s getting laughs as he jumps out of bed at the sound of his father’s voice or touching our hearts as he offers his pet turtle to Sooky, Jackie Cooper runs, commands and steals the show.
The whole film is very cute and works like a long episode of The Little Rascals, with more parental involvement. There’s a range of quirky kid characters, from Eloise (Mitzi Green), the pig tailed girl who yodels, the cowardly freckle-faced bully, sweet little sad-eyed Sooky and the black kid named Snowflake. That sort of racism was cute back then.
My favorite thing about this film is how kids are depicted to be so independent. Skippy seems to go off for miles away from home every day and mother doesn’t fret and father only scolds for going to the shantytown. He also tries to fix his problems on his own, hardly no running to his parents once things turn sour. Watching Skippy and Sooky think of ideas to raise money is just fun, from trying to break open a piggy bank, running a lemonade stand, to putting on a show (very Little Rascals style).
Nowadays you hardly see kids outside their own yard. They have to check in every few minutes and ask to go next door. The level of childhood independence shown in Skippy has been completely lost in just a few generations. Skippy makes for a great family film and could be a great way to show your kids a time where childhood didn’t involve video games and being herded around in a minivan. There are worse ideas to expose kids to than venturing to the shantytown to help out less fortunate friends.
“You don’t need a license for a turtle.”