In what may be the most remarkable live action film to come out of the Disney studios during the 80's or even the 70's for that matter, I find the treatment it has received from it's own studio appalling. The best thing I can compare it to is having a ruby but discarding it because you only prefer diamonds. Considering all the costume jewelry Disney released in the aforementioned decades, you would think they would have more respect for this gem.
I'm sure parents who took their children to see Natty Gann when it was released were surprised and shocked to discover that it was not a film for younger children. It is a very dark realistic film which takes place during the Great Depression. This is not only the story of a young girl traveling across country to find her father, it is the story of people searching for hope and trying to survive in an age when just having food on the table was a constant struggle.
When Natty's father Sol(Ray Wise) is offered a job in a logging camp in Washington, he is only given a few hours to come to a decision, either take the job and leave Natty behind, or stay in Chicago with Natty and hopefully find work elsewhere. At first, rejecting the job offer, he steps out into the Chicago streets. In a truly remarkable scene, we see as Sol does, the faces of all those who have lost hope and been beaten down in despair. It is after this brief but telling moment that he realizes, as we do, there is no decision to be made and Sol accepts the work in Seattle. Sol is forced to leave Natty in the care of a boarding house owner Connie(Lainie Kazan). After Natty overhears Connie reporting her as an abandoned child, she decides not to wait for her father to send for her, and begins an arduous journey across country to find him.
If ever there was a film that is a picture of contrasts it's this one. Early in the film we are given the harsh reality of depression era Chicago. Director Jeremy Kagan does not spare us from the details. We watch as men stand hopelessly and helplessly praying and hoping for work. There is a scene where a destitute family are evicted from their home. Later, as Sol is heading to Washington in the bus, we see another family on the road with their meager belongings strapped to their car as they head west, their car no longer operable. As Natty walks through the market place vendors sell what meager belongings they have just to get buy. When Natty runs away we see her fishing for food out of a trash can for a morsel to consume. Later, as Natty travels westward, there is beautifully photographed scenery of forests and mountains, but Director Kagan astutely reminds us of the bleakness of the depression with many scenes of the struggle in rural America, ranging from a scene of a farmer and his much pregnant wife plowing a field, to scenes of orphaned and abandoned children left to be wards of the state. This is not your Daddy's Disney, kids. Dick Bush's cinematography of the wilderness is breathtaking, yet in the scenes set in Chicago and in the farm towns of America, he mutes his colors to enhance the contrast between beauty and desperation.
When Natty jumps her first train, she is help and befriended by Harry(John Cusack), who is also riding the rails. Cusack in his first major dramatic role after being extremely good in The Sure Thing, shows for the first time that he is not just a comedic actor, but has dramatic prowess as well. Harry may be young, but Cusack gives him the edge of a man aged beyond his years. It is an uncanny performance.
Salenger, as Natty, is more than just a teenage actress. Her characterization draws us into the story from the first moments of this film to the last. It is the key that holds this film together and if it had been put into less capable hands the film would surely not have succeeded as well. Although her film career since Natty Gann has not been noteworthy, you will always remember her for her unflinching portrayal of Natty Gann. This is a journey for the ages, and one you will not soon forget. Unfortunately.......
I don't make it a habit to comment on the DVD release of films, but in this case I'll make an exception. The transfer of this wonderful film is appalling. It's bad enough when a film that shouts "wide screen" is only released in a very horrid poorly done pan and scan, but the full screen transfer is one of the worst if not the worst I have ever seen. It gives new meaning to the word grainy. At times the picture jitters so that you may begin reaching for your VCR remote to adjust the tracking until you remember this is a DVD. There are signs of the film's age running rampant throughout and no visible effort to clean it up digitally or otherwise. I'm not one to believe every film should come with a boatload of extras, and have no problem if a studio wants to give us just the film, but there is absolutely no excuse for the poor picture quality of this DVD. This movie is a gem, and for the Disney studios to tarnish it and treat it in this unconscionable manner, saddens me terribly. What is more frustrating is the fact that Disney can do quality video releases, so just a decent film to DVD wide screen transfer would not have been a lot to ask for. They should be ashamed of what they have done to this fine fine film.
My Grade: Journey of Natty Gann-A
DVD transfer - F
The Journey of Natty Gann
Adventure / Family
The Journey of Natty Gann
Adventure / Family
Natty Gann is a 12-year-old Depression-era girl whose single father leaves her behind in Chicago while he goes to Washington State to look for work in the timber industry. Natty runs away from the guardian she was left with to follow Dad. She befriends and is befriended by a wolf that has been abused in dog fights, hops a freight train west, and is presumed dead when her wallet is found after the train crashes. Dad gets bitter and endangers himself in his new job. Meanwhile, Natty has a series of adventures and misadventures in various farmhouses, police stations, hobo camps, reform schools, and boxcars.
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October 31, 2018 at 06:11 AM