The Journey of Natty Gann (1985)

Genres - Adventure, Children's/Family  |   Sub-Genres - Coming-of-Age, Family-Oriented Adventure  |   Run Time - 101 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - PG
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Review by Andrea LeVasseur

A family-oriented adventure, The Journey of Natty Gann follows the Disney formula, but does not let sentiment get in the way of a good story. Natty (Meredith Salenger) and her father, Saul Gann (Ray Wise), lovingly survive together in Depression-era Chicago, both fighting for the underdog. When he leaves for work out west, she goes out on her own to find him. Along the way, she befriends a lot of misfits and narrowly escapes the manipulative adults who try to catch her. Salenger plays Natty as quick and determined, fortunately not as a smart aleck or overly precocious. She is tough enough to eat a wild rabbit for food, but still cringes when she has to gut it with her pocket knife. Natty forges a bond with a wolf, who acts as her companion and protector. This relationship sometimes sinks into Disney mush territory, but overall, it makes narrative sense. Especially impressive is Harry (John Cusack), a kindred spirit who teaches Natty the art of riding the rails. With his Humphrey Bogart-style appearance and delivery, Cusack makes a perfect team with Salenger's Natty. For the most part, The Journey of Natty Gann is a coming-of-age tale that is rooted in Disney simplicity, but rare in its portrayal of a strong and gentle protagonist on a quest for family connection.