The Journey of Natty Gann (1985)

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When Patton Oswalt married Meredith Salenger in 2017, most people knew her as the titular character in the Disney film, The Journey of Natty Gann. I was aware of the film, but hadn’t seen it before. The time has come for me to finally check it out! Join me along The Journey of Natty Gann!

And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!

The film takes place in Chicago in the year 1935 where we see multiple men out of work including Sol Gann, played by Ray Wise. He tries his best to find a job while caring for his tomboy teenage daughter, Natty Gann, played by Meredith Salenger, in her debut role. His wife died years ago resulting in him and Natty having a beautiful, loving relationship as they only have each other.

“I couldn’t do more than you do for your poor father…”

Sol is tested though when he receives a job offer to work at a lumber camp in Washington state. Unfortunately, he won’t be able to take Natty with him right now and would have to send for her later. The bus to Washington leaves in a couple of hours, so he has to make his decision soon. At first, he rejects the job due to this stipulation, but changes his mind after speaking with friends like a peddler named Sherman, played by Scatman Crothers. Sol realizes that this is the best thing to do for him and Natty. He tries to find Natty to inform her, but she’s busy running around Chicago with her friends. Unfortunately, he’s forced to board the bus without finding Natty, but he leaves a letter for her with their landlady, Connie, played by Lainie Kazan.

Natty is sad when she reads the letter and misses her dad terribly. To top it off, Sol told Connie to take care of Natty until he can send for her, but Connie and Natty don’t get along at all due to Connie’s strictness and overall apathy towards Natty. Eventually, Natty decides to sneak out of her apartment one night and heads to the railroad track with the intention of hitchhiking the trains until she reaches her father in Washington. She has trouble jumping onto the moving train, but is helped by a “traveling hobo” named Harry, played by John Cusack. Harry doesn’t care to talk much to Natty, but protects her from being teased by other hobos and helps her alight the train when the patrols arrive looking for stowaways. He’s arrested, but Natty is able to escape in time.

Just in time to audition for Newsies!

She explores the city where she’s landed and is forced to scrounge for food in the garbage to fill herself. She also comes upon a dogfighting match where the winner is a wolf. She helps the wolf escape and when she goes to re-hop on another train, she finds the wolf in the car before her. She gives the wolf space and finds somewhere else on the train to stay. By now, Natty has reached Colorado and sadly, the train crashes. Fortunately, she is able to jump off in time and runs for shelter in the nearby forest. There she finds the wolf again who gives her food to help her survive. The two quickly become pals and continue to head west even if it means via walking only!

By now, Sol has called Connie and discovered that Natty has run away causing him all sorts of worry. He decides to take a week off of work to head back to Chicago to help find her. Eventually, he’s told of the train crash in Colorado and that Natty’s wallet was found in the wreckage with her presumed dead. Sol has a hard time accepting and believing this, but eventually heads back to work a hardened, but pained man dealing with the possibility that his daughter is dead.

The pain in his face…it just hits me!

Meanwhile Natty and the wolf meet a multitude of characters along their journey west. They come across a couple living in the woods as well as a gang of teenage cattle rustlers. When the cattle rustlers pull a heist with Natty, she isn’t able to escape in time and is arrested. Deemed an orphan, she’s sent to an orphanage/juvenile center of sorts while the wolf is sent with a blacksmith to be killed. She manages to break out of the orphanage and finds the blacksmith demanding answers to the wolf’s location. The blacksmith turns out to be a kindly man who kept the wolf as a pet, rather than killing it. He gives the wolf back to Natty and gives them both a ride to the train station with some food and enough money for a train ticket out west.

So shines a good deed in a weary world.

The ticket master recognizes Natty as the orphanage runaway though and calls the authorities. Natty and the wolf are able to escape in time and soon are hitchhiking along the road. They’re picked up by a guy who’s much too eager to pick them up and he begins to molest Natty in the car.

I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen molestation in a Disney film!

The wolf intervenes and Natty is able to jump out of the car in time. The two of them continue walking until they come upon a small hobo settlement where Natty runs into Harry again.

Oh yeah, I forgot you were in this movie!

He acts annoyed with her, but eventually shares his food with her. When the hobo settlement is attacked by the city dwellers who want to burn it down, Harry runs away with Natty and the wolf. The trio continues heading west while hopping trains and hiding in railway cars and random barns. Natty and Harry get to know about each other and their families during their time they spend together. Eventually they finally make it to Washington wherein Natty learns of a lumber camp nearby where she thinks her father may be. However Harry has found work in San Francisco and wants Natty to join him there. While Natty would love to, she can’t do anything until she finds her dad, so she declines. The two part ways at the bus station with a goodbye kiss in a quite touching, sad scene.

“Our trio’s down to two.”

Natty and the wolf head to the lumber camp, but nobody there knows of her father and she’s told to leave. Soon enough the wolf hears calls from other wolves in the forest and Natty is forced to let a second loved one (well, third, if you count her father) go.

“His carefree days with me are history.”

Fortunately, a clerk finds an unsent letter at the camp with Sol’s name on it and informs Natty proving that her father is working somewhere in the forest. As she runs into the forest, she passes by a jeep taking people back to the camp including her father. She calls out to him, but the jeep outruns her. As she begins to sob in the forest, she turns around to find her father there. He heard her calling him and is overjoyed to see his daughter again. The film concludes as the two embrace, thereby officially ending the journey of Natty Gann!

I’m not crying, you’re crying!

And that was The Journey of Natty Gann! Gosh, I love this movie! It’s incredibly charming, emotional, and showcases great relationship. The relationship between Natty and her father is a very loving father/daughter relationship that tugs at your heartstrings. You’re literally hoping throughout the entire movie that the two get reunited in the end! Also the relationship between Natty and Harry is a very sweet and innocent one as well, although his character isn’t in the majority of the film.

Meredith Salenger gives an amazing debut performance worthy of an Oscar! She plays Natty as both tough and soft as well as incredibly sympathetic. Ray Wise gives a pretty solid performance as well! John Cusack was fine, but I wasn’t impressed with Lainie Kazan’s performance. The score was also very good because I almost never notice film scores, but this one definitely stood out! I actually think that this film would make a pretty good, smaller, intimate stage musical!

My only criticisms are minor. I feel the pacing could be better in certain situations. For example, the first 15 minutes really sets the scene for the film and keeps you interested, but the next 15 or so minutes after it with Natty traveling by herself and finding the wolf does get a little boring. I also think Harry should have been in the film more, but I understand that the film is supposed to be mainly about Natty Gann’s journey to find her dad.

In the end, this film was a delightful surprise! If you haven’t seen The Journey of Natty Gann yet, what are you waiting for?

So, my final score for this film is 32/35 = 91.43% (A-) !

The next review will be posted on April 26, 2022.

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