Movie Review

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Tall Tale: The Unbelievable Adventures of Pecos Bill

reviewed by Dr. Barbara Mack Ph.D.

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Self-Help Parent Meter (Scale based on PG-13 films)
0 = Little or none      5 = Great amount or highly

Sex: (0)
Profanity: (0)
Violence: (4)
Fright: (1)

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"Tall Tale: The Unbelievable Adventures of Pecos Bill" (PG) is a "shoot'em-up" western with a moral. Although there is too much violence, there are some worthwhile messages for children.

It's 1905, and the big city has telegraphs, electric lights and horseless carriages. The modern times thrill 12 year-old Daniel Hackett (Nick Stahl), but he is stuck on his family's western farm. Daniel is not impressed with the beauty or the legends of the West. His father's tales of Pecos Bill seem wasted on him. When a railroad baron, J.P. Stiles (Scott Glenn), tries to buy up the land in the community, Daniel sees a way to get off the farm, but Daniel's father Jonas (Stephen Lang) announces that he won't sell. The railroad and industry have already ruined the neighboring valley, and he won't let it happen to his land.

The ruthless Stiles orders his men to shoot Jonas, if necessary, to get the deed to the land. Fearing for his safety, Jonas entrusts the deed to Daniel. Jonas is shot, and the doctor tells the family that Jonas's life is in the Lord's hands. Daniel runs to the lake crying and throws himself in a rowboat where he falls asleep. Daniel wakes up to find that his boat has drifted far away. Two thieves are standing over him and about to kill him. Pecos Bill (Patrick Swayze) appears and saves the boy. Pecos Bill and Daniel are joined by Paul Bunyan (Oliver Platt) and John Henry (Roger Aaron Brown). The three folk heroes agree to accompany Daniel back to his home. Along the way, they fight to protect the boy and the land from the evil railroad men.

Daniel's relationship with his father is a key element in "Tall Tale: The Unbelievable Adventures of Pecos Bill." In the beginning of the film, Daniel has a difficult time with his father. Being an adolescent, Daniel needs to separate from his father in order to establish his own identity. He does that by rejecting those values that his father holds dear--love of the land and pride in farming. After his father is shot, Daniel realizes that he may lose him. He then begins to re-evaluate his father's beliefs. ith the help of the three folk heroes, Daniel matures and finds his own identity. He is then able to incorporate his father's valuesPecos, Paul and John enable Daniel to see that his father's wisdom and courage in standing up for his ideals is heroic.

This film also portrays a conflict between industrialization and the early environmentalists. Daniel's father, Pecos, Paul and John all realize the importance of protecting the land, and convey it to Daniel. Through this story, the children in the audience learn a lesson about the history and significance of protecting the environment.

"Tall Tale: The Unbelievable Adventures of Pecos Bill" contains no sex or profanity, but there is quite a bit of "cowboy style" violence. The father is shot and seriously wounded, Pecos Bill brags about his shooting and drinking skills, Daniel is trapped on a log which is about to go through an automatic saw, a man's finger is shot off and later found, Daniel falls from a high water tower, Daniel is run over by a train and there is other fighting and shooting. This old fashioned Western violence may not seem troublesome to adults who watched it when they were children. In one respect, they are correct. It is not as harmful as more realistic violence. But research has shown that even cartoon violence has some negative effects on certain age groups, such as young children. The violent scenes are glamorized, and the amount of violence is unnecessary for the plot.

Some of the messages of this film are good, and the cinematography is wonderful. One scene of butterflies on a field is dazzling. This could have been a better family film, if Disney had minimized the violence.

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