Saving Shiloh is the third in the Shiloh trilogy, adapted from the Newbery Medal-winning books by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. The stories are about the struggles between Marty Preston, a boy with a kind heart, Judd Travers, the town drunk, and Shiloh, the little Beagle who brings their lives together.
Shiloh and Shiloh 2
In the first movie, Judd owns the little Beagle and mistreats him, as he does with all his hunting dogs. Shiloh gets away and meets Marty, who instantly loves him. Marty makes a deal to work for Judd to earn the right to keep the dog. Marty earns Shiloh fair and square, but Judd always contends that the dog is still his. This tension plays out through the rest of the trilogy.
In Shiloh 2, drunken Judd flips his truck over a bridge, and Shiloh discovers the wreck. A few townspeople show kindness to Judd, by coming by his house each day to check on his injuries. Marty insists that his mother pack food for Judd and his father deliver it along with his mail (Dad is a letter carrier). Marty writes him letters about Shiloh. Judd neither wants nor understands these acts of kindness. The movie ends with Judd softening, and petting the Beagle’s head for the first time.
Saving Shiloh begins with Judd cleaned up, making an attempt at neighborliness toward the Prestons. But there is a wave of crimes in this small town, several burglaries and a murder. Everyone in town, except for the Preston family, assumes Judd is responsible for it all.
Marty learns that Judd was often beaten by his father, and never had any friends. He sees Judd as a man who has been chained to his past just as Judd’s hunting dogs are always chained to a post. A chained dog is fearful of others because he cannot get away and therefore has to be mean to protect himself. Marty believes that the kindness shown to Judd (in Shiloh 2) changed him, and even a dog that’s been unchained can lose his meanness and be sociable.
True to life, being an outcast, even when the real criminals are caught, there are no apologies or any redemption for Judd. Then, when an emergency presents itself (we won’t give the ending away), Judd shows he does have a heart, does the right thing, and finds himself awkwardly enjoying at least a moment of acceptance.
If you’re a fan of the Shiloh movies, this one may surprise you a bit in the beginning. The casting is almost entirely new and there are some unexplained changes to the setting as well – most notably, the wooden bridge on the road through the woods, which Judd drove over just before crashing in the previous film, and which is a symbolic thread through the trilogy, is now a narrow footbridge.
Once you put those differences aside, you can enjoy a movie that has a real message about how we treat the downtrodden in our communities. Marty believes that even mean, drunken, dog-beating, squirrel-shooting Judd has to have a good side, if only people will give him half a chance. Even the dog, man’s best friend, has a very hard time forgetting his previous mistreatment, and skedaddles whenever Judd appears. As a dog lover, you get to see Shiloh, the exceedingly cute Beagle in nearly every scene, though he is less involved in the storyline as he was in the previous movies. As a parent, you’ll enjoy the movie, as both the story and the message are very appropriate for all ages.
Although this is part of a classic ‘a boy and his dog’ trilogy, this movie is really about the nature of people. Amazingly, Judd Travers, the character you feel righteous to hate, is the one you will tear up for in the end.
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More good family movies about dogs
Movie Review: Eight Below
Movie Review: Walt Disney’s The Shaggy Dog