A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that violence (and threats of violence) here include shootings, fistfights, the potential of being run over by a train, and the so-ancient-it's-practically-fresh movie cliche of being stuck to a log that's heading for a buzzsaw. Pecos Bill has a technique of "disarming" his foes in gun battles by shooting their trigger fingers off, and we see at least one severed digit in an icky closeup. There is a parent badly wounded, but he doesn't die.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Somewhere in the American West in 1905, in a place called Paradise Valley, 12-year old Daniel (Nick Stahl) hates his hard life as chore-bound son of a hardworking farmer. Then he secretly follows dad to a meeting of fellow sodbusters being tempted to sell their homesteads to menacing railroad-construction tycoons from the industrialized east. When Daniel's dad resists being forced off his property, he's shot, and Daniel is left a fugitive with the deed to the family farm. Daniel's father constantly tried to keep up his boy's spirit with tall tales of frontier characters like Paul Bunyan (Oliver Platt) and Pecos Bill (Patrick Swayze), and Daniel, amazingly, finds those mythic icons in the flesh, interacting with him along with John Henry (Roger Aaron Brown) and Calamity Jane (Catherine O'Hara). Yet these heroes don't seem quite in tune with the 20th century, and Daniel has his own troubles living up to the legendary characters' outsized standards and astounding feats.
Is it any good?
Nobody would confuse TALL TALE with the classic The Wizard of Oz -- which its storyline parallels at times -- but that these two can be mentioned together is some praise. Tall Tale actually feels like a throwback to the innocent, robust G-rated fun of earlier live-action Disney family-adventures such as Swiss Family Robinson or Treasure Island (1950), and it's got the splendid production values to match (filming locations in Monument Valley, Arizona). But there's also a post-Walt sly undertone, not unlike "adult" Westerns (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) about the "death of the west.”
Daniel is disappointed by Pecos and Bunyan. Amidst newfangled telegraph lines and automobiles, these titans of the 1800s are kind of misfits, not the super-cowboy and ultra-lumberjack the boy envisioned. Daniel is also more vulnerable and flawed than a lot of celluloid kids. Viewers don't know how much of the story is "real" and how much happens in his head, as he calls on childhood idols for a psychological boost.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about characters from tall tales -- not only those represented here, but other historical (and fictitious) figures, mostly from frontier days, who have attained larger-than-life status, with movies to match. Discuss Davey Crockett, Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp, and Nihanbazo, a wily hero of Great Lakes Indian tribes.
What's the distinction between "folklore" and equally ubiquitous characters from immortal fiction, like Tarzan, Superman, or the crew of the starship Enterprise.
Who are your heroes? Are any fictional characters? Current public figures?
- In theaters: March 29, 1995
- On DVD or streaming: August 26, 2008
- Cast: Catherine O'Hara, Oliver Platt, Patrick Swayze
- Director: Jeremiah S. Chechik
- Studio: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
- Genre: Western
- Topics: Adventures
- Run time: 97 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: Western action violence
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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