Building Entertainment: The films of the Walt Disney Studio. Tall Tale

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: Tall Tale (also known as Tall Tale: The Unbelievable Adventures of Pecos Bill)

Year: 1995

Source materials: American folklore

Budget:  $32 million

Box office: $11 million

Plot:In 1905, Daniel Hackett, a young farmer from the western town of Paradise Valley, is unhappy with his life as a farmer and dreams of life in New York City. His father, Jonas, likes to tell Daniel tall tales about Pecos Bill, Paul Bunyan and John Henry to which Daniel has heard many times leading him to doubt their existence. Meanwhile, Paradise Valley is being coveted by a greedy developer, J.P. Stiles. Stiles attempts to convince area farmers to sell their land to him, most notably Jonas as his farm lies in the center of where he wants to develop. However, when Jonas refuses to hand up his deed, Stiles hunts him down and shoots him, but not before Jonas hands the deed off to Daniel for safe keeping.

With Jonas in critical condition and unable to farm, his land is put at risk. Upset, Daniel runs out to hide in his father’s boat and falls asleep. When Daniel awakes, he discovers that the boat had come untied and drifted downstream to the deserts of Texas. After a brief encounter with some thieves, Daniel is rescued by legendary cowboy Pecos Bill. The duo later team up with lumberjack Paul Bunyan, and strong African American ex-slave John Henry. Each of these heroes hooks up with Daniel and becomes involved in an increasingly bitter and boisterous fight against Stiles, whose plans to buy up land threaten the very strength of the folk heroes and the well-being of the common people.

When Stiles takes the deed, Daniel wakes up realizing it was just a dream. He ventures towards Stiles train who was about head out into the lands. Daniel confronts him, and they attempt to run him over, until John arrives and holds the train. Stiles orders his men to kill them, but Pecos arrives and shoots off their trigger fingers, and the townsfolk join in to help, while Paul, who went inside while nobody noticed, cuts down the mine poles. Daniel then finishes off the last pole killing Stiles and his men, and the crowd cheers for him.

Daniel then returns to the farm and admits that the stories were true and their land is important. Paul with his blue ox Babe, and John with his mule Cold Molasses, say goodbye to Daniel and disappear afterwards. Pecos leaves his horse, Widow-Maker to Daniel and twirls his lasso at a twister for his departure.

Background: Filming locations include Disney Ranch and Melody Ranch in Santa Clarita, California, Vasquez Rocks State Park near Agua Dulce, California, Fillmore, California and Barstow, California, Carbondale, Colorado, Glenwood Springs, Colorado, Utah’s San Juan River, and Monument Valley, US.

Cast: Oliver Platt returns as Paul Bunyan. Catherine O’Hara returns as Calamity Jane.

Patrick Swayze as Pecos Bill. Swayze received three Golden Globe Award nominations, for Dirty Dancing, Ghost, and To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar. Other films included The Outsiders, Uncommon Valor, Red Dawn,  Youngblood, North and South, Road House, Point Break, and Donnie Darko. Roger Aaron Brown as John Henry. He’s known for his role as Deputy Chief Joe Noland on  The District and for his minor role in  Alien Nation. Other roles include Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Cobra, Near Dark, Action Jackson, Downtown, and RoboCop 2. He also provided the voice of Achilles Davenport in the video games, Assassin’s Creed III and Assassin’s Creed Rogue.

Nick Stahl as Daniel Hackett. He broke out in the film The Man Without a Face. Followed by the films The Thin Red Line, In the Bedroom, Bully, Sin City, the HBO series Carnivàle, and the film Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, in the role of John Connor. Scott Glenn as J.P. Stiles. His roles have included Wes Hightower in Urban Cowboy, astronaut Alan Shepard in The Right Stuff, Emmett in Silverado, Commander Bart Mancuso in The Hunt for Red October, Jack Crawford in The Silence of the Lambs, John Adcox in Backdraft, Montgomery Wick in Vertical Limit, Roger in Training Day, Ezra Kramer in The Bourne Ultimatum, Kevin Garvey, Sr., in The Leftovers, and as Stick in both Daredevil and The Defenders.

Stephen Lang as Jonas Hackett. He is known for roles in films including Manhunter, Gettysburg, Tombstone, Gods and Generals, Public Enemies, and Don’t Breathe. He received a Tony Award nomination for his role in the 1992 Broadway production of The Speed of Darkness and won the Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Avatar. From 2004 to 2006, he was co-artistic director of the Actors Studio. Jared Harris as Head Thug Pug.His roles include Lane Pryce in Mad Men for which he received a nomination for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series, David Robert Jones in Fringe, King George VI in The Crown, Anderson Dawes on The Expanse, Captain Francis Crozier in The Terror, and Valery Legasov in the miniseries Chernobyl for which he was nominated for the 2019 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie. He has also had significant supporting roles in films such as Mr. Deeds, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Lincoln, and Allied.

William H. Macy as Railroad Magnate (uncredited). He has won two Emmy Awards and four Screen Actors Guild Awards, as well as a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Fargo. Since 2011, he has played Frank Gallagher in the Showtime adaptation of  Shameless. He has appeared in numerous films that Mamet wrote and/or directed, such as House of Games, Things Change, Homicide, Oleanna (reprising the role he originated in the play of the same name), Wag the Dog, State and Main and Spartan.Other Macy roles include Benny & Joon, Above Suspicion, Mr. Holland’s Opus, Ghosts of Mississippi, Air Force One, Boogie Nights, A Civil Action, Pleasantville, Gus Van Sant’s remake of Psycho, Happy, Texas, Mystery Men, Magnolia, Jurassic Park III, Focus, Panic, Welcome to Collinwood, Seabiscuit, The Cooler and Sahara. His work on ER and Sports Night has also been recognized with Emmy nominations. Burgess Meredith as Old Man (uncredited). Early roles included as George Milton in Of Mice and Men, Ernie Pyle in The Story of G.I. Joe, and the narrator of A Walk in the Sun. Meredith was known later in his career for his appearances on The Twilight Zone,  for portraying arch-villain The Penguin on the 1960s TV series Batman, and boxing trainer Mickey Goldmill in the Rocky film series. For his performances in The Day of the Locust  and Rocky, he received nominations for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He later starred in Foul Play and Clash of the Titans. In his last years, he played the sex-crazed 95-year-old father in Grumpy Old Men  and its sequel, Grumpier Old Men.

Critical Reception:Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times gave the film a 3 out of 4 stars and described it as “a warm-blooded, high-spirited family adventure film.”

My take: It’s well cast and fun, it kind of flew under the radar

Available on Disney +?: Yes

Next Week: A Kid in King Arthur’s Court