A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Daniel is a believably frightened, often helpless, and pessimistic adolescent protagonist, even as he's captivated by Pecos Bill's “Code of the West”: Respect the land, defend the defenseless and don't spit in front of women and children ... And never kill a man on Sunday. It's pretty much up to the viewer to decide in the end whether he actually did meet Pecos Bill, Paul Bunyan, and John Henry, or just took courage from their stories when he needed it.
Positive Role Models
While Pecos Bill loves a fight (“scrappin'”) he avoids killing, and barely any real blood is shed (just fingers). Even with John Henry in a prominent role, this 20th-century "old West" is mostly white and male (though Chinese railroad workers are glimpsed), and the script refrains from showing any racism directed against John Henry. Businessmen -- that is, "eastern" industrialists, developers, and railroad-builders -- are top-hat and tail-wearing greedy fiends. Calamity Jane's brief cameo is the token statement that women can be “scrappin'” as well.
Violence & Scariness
Pecos Bill has a tendency to shoot off enemies' trigger fingers (later one is found and speared).
Men whipped, slave-like, on a railroad construction. A fistfight. Young Daniel threatened by a buzz saw and death via gunshot.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
One fleeting remark from Paul Bunyan about a desert being hotter "than a June bride in a featherbed."
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The s-word once, and the rather creative "buffalo pucky."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Drinking whiskey and beer in a saloon (except for Daniel, who has to imbibe sarsparilla instead). Cigar and cigarette smoking (by hero, villain, and extra alike).
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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. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.