Journey of Natty Gann, The (1985)

Journey of Natty Gann, The (1985)

“You’ve got no business being on the road, kid.”

During the Depression, a motherless teen (Meredith Salenger) embarks on a journey to find her father (Ray Wise), who has gone to Seattle for a logging job.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Coming-of-Age
  • Depression Era
  • Pets
  • Road Trip
  • Search
  • Verna Bloom Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
The opening line to Peary’s review of this live-action Disney feature is both intriguing and compelling: “Forget about art films for one night and gather the family for this enjoyable adventure movie”, he writes. Peary contends that while “nothing we see [in the film] is particularly surprising”, it’s nonetheless “well directed”, “intelligently scripted”, and “extremely well cast”, with Salenger’s “natural, very appealing delivery” making her plucky protagonist “easy to root for”. Peary’s assessment rings mostly true: despite being predictable and contrived at times — Natty’s relationship with a pet wolf, for instance, seems merely like an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of Never Cry Wolf (1983) — we quickly learn to care for Salenger’s Natty, and wish her luck as she struggles to reach her beloved dad (nicely played by Ray Wise).

In addition, older kids and teens will benefit from seeing a depiction of life during the Depression that accurately portrays the extreme hardships suffered by employees (the film is pro-union) and their families, who were very often torn apart as Natty and her father are. And, just as I was starting to wonder if Disney wasn’t perhaps sugar-coating the dangers of an attractive teen like Natty traveling on her own across the country, she’s propositioned by an unsavory middle-aged driver, and must flee for safety. Indeed, …Natty Gann really isn’t suitable for younger kids, so be forewarned.

Note: Those looking forward to seeing John Cusack in an early role (he plays Natty’s nominal love interest) should note that he’s not given much screen time; he shows up near the beginning, then disappears until the final half hour of the film.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Meredith Salenger as Natty
  • Fine location cinematography
  • An effective depiction of Depression-era economic hardships

Must See?
No, but it’s a worthy family film.


One thought on “Journey of Natty Gann, The (1985)

  1. First viewing. A once-must, as ‘a good show’; a simple, effective tale well-told.

    Jeremy Kagan is a fine director – as particularly evidenced by his work on ‘The Chosen’. Though he made a handful of feature films, the bulk of his output has been in television.

    ‘Journey…’ was the first US film to win a Gold Prize at the Moscow Film Festival. It has an economic script by Jeanne Rosenberg, was beautifully shot by Dick Bush and is supplemented by James Horner’s pleasant score. As well, it is also nicely edited (David Holden) and Paul Sylbert’s production design is remarkably detailed.

    I was actually surprised how un-Disneyfied this film is: not only is Natty briefly but (of course) uncomfortably hit on, but she’s also allowed to say “Oh, shit.” a few times.

    Overall, this is a moving experience. Salenger (who is impressive here) went on to have a long career though I don’t recall seeing her in anything else. And ‘Jed’ is terrific as her wolf.

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