The Man from Button Willow

Movie review by
Tracy Moore, Common Sense Media
The Man from Button Willow Movie Poster Image
Animated cowboy adventure has light peril, outdated views.
  • G
  • 1987
  • 80 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

If there is anything educational to be found in The Man From Button Willow, it's a message of patriotism illustrated by main character Justin Eagle's actions as a cowboy/hero.

Positive Messages

The Man From Button Willow espouses positive messages about loyalty, bravery, and patriotism. But modern viewers will also recognize stereotypes and ethnocentrism in line with the pre-Civil Rights era in which the movie was made.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Justin Eagle is a kind, trustworthy hero whose first and foremost loyalty is to his country. Other characters are played broadly, using stereotypes to define their personalities.

Violence & Scariness

Some light peril and a few scenes of cartoony violence. In one scene, a saber toothed tiger stalks, threatens, and attacks a colt, ending in standoff with the colt's mother that sends the tiger to its presumed death off a cliff. In a final scene, a ship-wide brawl has every man fending for himself brandishing any weapon available, from ax to wood plank to barrel. Lesser scenes show a man shooting up a playing card for target practice in full view of a young child.

Sexy Stuff
Language

Characters don't swear but use euphemistic swear-like language, such as "What in the Sam Hill is that?" References to minorities or the marginalized -- orphans, "Injuns," and the womenfolk are all politically incorrect relics of the time.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One scene takes place in a saloon with alcohol consumed, run by a cigar-smoking hothead.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Man from Button Willow is a 1965 animated adventure set in the 1800s, and it plays to broad stereotypes and fantasies about cowboys, Native Americans, cowards, heroic men, gentle women, and rescued orphans, all underscored by an overwhelmingly romantic, not to mention ethnocentric view of America's rugged individualism and superiority on the world stage. But it fills the rest of its time with lots of Bambi-like subplots of life in the forest, featuring animal play, nature, and simple platitudes about America that are fairly innocuous by comparison.

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What's the story?

Justin Eagle (Dale Robertson) is a cowboy by day and an undercover agent for the U.S. government by night who gets by outwitting landgrabbers who outpace the railroads, snatch up a few pristine swatches of unclaimed soil, and then sell it back to the government at inflated prices. But Eagle will face his biggest adventure yet when a U.S. senator goes missing in the midst of a known villain's extortion attempts to buy settler's land that happens to lie right in the path of a significant railroad that will finally connect the East and West.

Is it any good?

This is an amusing nostalgia kick for fans of Westerns, cowboys, or that haze of the good-old-days in American history, where it didn't matter if they got the actual history right. THE MAN FROM BUTTON WILLOW does what it clearly aimed to achieve in 1965: romanticize cowboys, gloss over landgrabbing in 1800s-era America, and send a message about America's dominance, superiority, and the importance of fighting for freedom. In spite of that high-octane to-do list, it drags more than you would expect, and spends an inordinate amount of time exploring a Disney-styled cast of animals frolicking and surviving in nature before it gets down to business.

Kids, though, may enjoy that romp in the forest. Parents will wonder how a rugged cowboy is raising an orphan while he constantly jaunts off on heroic rescues, nevermind that this orphan calls him "Justin-san" even though she is Chinese. And don't bother asking why Eastern-tinged music needs to play every time she appears.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how governments decide who owns the land it oversees, and the kinds of challenges brought up in settling a land as vast as America. What do you know about the people who lived in America before the Europeans arrived?

  • Go online to learn more about life during the 1800s in the American West. What drew new American families to this area during this time? What challenges did families face as they migrated to California? What were the rewards for those who made it?

Movie details

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