What you’ll find about the Disney movies in this countdown is that I wasn’t looking forward to most of them outside of the Marvel or Lucasfilm ones. This will lead to a very controversial post later on, but for now let’s focus on the live action department. There were 3 in-studio live action Disney movies this year. I had little interest in seeing Cinderella. I did see Tomorrowland, the only one of these I was hyped for. Then there was McFarland, USA. I hesitantly saw this movie through VOD, a decision I would end up thanking myself for doing.
This film tells the true story of Jim White and the 1987 McFarland High School cross country team. White was a high school coach who was transferred to McFarland after an incident at his previous school. What he realizes about the kids in his PE class and football team is that they have a talent for running, mostly due to their farming lifestyle. He decides to recruit these kids and form a cross country team. Initially the underdogs compared to the richer schools, they soon become the team to beat.
Watching this movie I had 2 fears. One was that it would be corny and needlessly whimsical (more Mighty Ducks than Remember the Titans, if you know what I mean). The other was that it would be the same inspirational sports story we’ve seen multiple times. To address the second concern first, this movie indeed was your typical sports film story, but it’s done incredibly well and incorporates elements that makes it stand out. Those elements are demonstrated through this film’s surprisingly grim and subdued tone. Something that I didn’t expect Disney to do here, but it fits it like a glove.
This movie immerses itself in its setting of McFarland and the culture thereof. McFarland is a predominantly lower-middle class Latino town. That plays a huge role in the events of this story and gives it the identity I fear it wouldn’t have. It dictates the characters’ outlook on life and demonstrates the dichotomy between Jim and his students- a major theme of this movie.
Speaking of outlook, that’s my favorite aspect of this film. Like I said, this is a bit grim for a Disney movie. It’s not dark by any means, it’s just a bit blunt. One of my favorite things in movies is when the tone matches the main character, or all of them in this case. There’s very little optimism either from Jim or especially from his students. As the film goes on, you start to get a bit more optimistic in sync with the events that go on in the story. It’s that attention to detail that makes this movie really smart and captivating.
Also, it’s a really good story despite being cliche and predictable. Kevin Costner plays Jim White and does an amazing job. He’s a very likable guy trying to do something good for these kids. You easily get behind him and his cause. The rest of the cast does an awesome job, as well. No one was unlikable except the people who are supposed to be unlikable.
This film was a great surprise. It’s nothing to go crazy about, but it’s something worth watching if you have a moment and are in the mood. I’m confident this movie will surprise you, too.
I’m SBox180. Thanks for reading!
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2015 Movie Countdown Directory: here!