Buffalo Dreams

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media
Buffalo Dreams Movie Poster Image
Drama explores Navajo traditions, environmental issues.
  • G
  • 2005
  • 89 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

Meant to entertain rather than educate.

Positive Messages

Actions have consequences. Try to acknowledge and make up for your mistakes.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Thomas is responsible and respectful but rejects his heritage. Josh is ignorant of the importance of nature but learns quickly.

Violence & Scariness

A bike racer puts a stick into the spokes of a racer next to him, breaking the other rider's bike. Reckless boys spray-paint a sacred Navajo site. Buffalo threaten to stampede but kids on bikes head them off.

Sexy Stuff
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Buffalo Dreams is a coming-of-age story about a jaded middle-school city boy who is uprooted when his dad's job takes the family to rural New Mexico. His friendship with a Navajo boy and what he learns about nature, buffaloes, and spirituality change his life. Violence includes a buffalo stampede, a bike racer putting a stick into the spokes of a racer next to him, and reckless boys spray-painting a sacred Navajo site.

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What's the story?

BUFFALO DREAMS finds middle-schooler Josh (Reiley McClendon) transplanted from the big city to rural New Mexico when his astrophysicist dad (George Newbern) has a job transfer. Josh laments the lack of cell phone reception but grudgingly appreciates the beauty of the terrain and the majesty of the buffalo herd that roams local Navajo lands. He agrees to help some local teens, including Navajo Thomas Blackhorse (Simon R. Baker), to maintain the buffalo lands. Thomas has his own challenges as he wrestles with rejecting Navajo traditions. Nevertheless, he's sure that respecting nature is a better policy than the attitude of other local teens, who ride their mountain bikes and tear up restricted sacred lands. Josh brings some of those boys to a secret watering hole and they gleefully desecrate that sacred site with spray paint and litter. To make amends for his mistake, Josh challenges one biker to a race. As he trains for it, Thomas' grandfather John (Graham Greene) sends the boys on a night alone in the wilderness to help them find their individual inner strengths. During the race, a buffalo stampede intervenes and Josh abandons the competition for the more important job of helping to herd the buffalo.

Is it any good?

Teaching kids to respect the environment and about man's all-important stewardship of the earth are central themes here, which makes it worthwhile viewing. The emphasis is on a kind of self-examination that teens may be able to relate to. Thomas scolds Josh about being oblivious to his environment at the same time that Thomas himself struggles with embracing some of his heritage's spirituality. The big, valuable takeaway from Buffalo Dreams is that we're all flawed in our own ways, but it doesn't have to keep us from finding and being our best selves.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what a boy can learn about himself by spending a night alone in the wilderness.

  • Buffalo Dreams describes some Navajo practices and beliefs that revere nature, animals, and the earth. Why do you think a teenaged Navajo rejects his heritage?

  • Why do you think the grandfather sent his Navajo grandson and the new boy from the city together to spend the night outdoors? 

  • What did you learn about Navajo culture? How could you learn more?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love dramas

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