Okay. First things first. You should start playing the video below because to really understand what I’m talking about, you’ve gotta listen to James Horner’s wonderful score.

Are you listening? Good. Okay, now we can begin. I was first introduced to The Journey of Natty Gann at ten years old. The funny thing looking back is that I had no idea how obscure the film really was. I just assumed this was a normal childhood staple when it was anything but. It was one of my favorite things. None of my classmates or close friends had ever heard of it and I could be the one to introduce them to it.

My dad discovered the film through a random channel flip one night and got hooked. Yes, it’s a Disney movie, though I doubt even hardcore Disney fans know about it. It was almost too good to be a Disney movie. It didn’t fit into their PG mold. This film showed that life was difficult, that there were bad people in the world; not a fictional fairy tale world, but the real world.

I think Disney thought that was a hard pill for young viewers to swallow. Not to mention the fact that there was smoking.

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And a girl fighting…

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And dangerous situations…

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But there was also so much fun…

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And friendship…

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And, ultimately, heart…

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A lot of what makes this film work is Meredith Salenger, who at the time, was just 14 years old. Her performance is genuine and raw. In a 1985 interview with The Chicago Tribune, Kagan, the film’s director said of Salenger…

 “I think one of the special things about the picture is that Meredith was in that period herself, going through the same changes the character was. But she had to play the role. Look, Meredith is a very sweet, well-bred girl, and she had to play a tough tomboy of the `30s. She had to learn to be a tomboy, to walk different, with a swagger. We gave her boxing lessons and showed her old movies–Jimmy Cagney and the Dead End Kids–to get the gestures down right. But all that`s just the paint job. If the sculpture isn`t there to begin with–well, she had Natty down in her heart. The feeling was there. She became that tough girl.” – Jeremy Kagan

The film also boasts a wonderful supporting cast including a very young (and swoon-worthy) John Cusack who plays a fellow teen runaway, Ray Wise, Lainie Kazan and perhaps the most important cast member of them all, Jed (the wolf-dog).

The reason why a movie comes together is a hard one to answer. So many factors affect the final product. I think that Natty Gann is unique due in great part to its director, Jeremy Kagan. He’s known for Natty Gann, 1981’s The Chosen and a plethora of television work. His mindset, at least according to interviews, is to make films with heart, films that affect people. In a 1985 interview with The Chicago Tribune, Kagan said of the film…

“One of the things I like so much about this movie is that it`s a story that could have happened 100 years ago,“said director Jeremy Kagan. “It`s got a magical element in it, like a fable. It`s a story of what might be possible.“ – Jeremy Kagan

I think one of the reasons I was so touched by this movie is because it’s an essence a story of the love between a parent and child. Natty’s search for her dad and his for her is heartwrenching because we know that even though this story might be fictional, we know that this could (and probably did) happen to many other children. The film is rooted in reality and that’s why it moves audiences.

This past week, The Cinefamily theater in Los Angeles announced a special screening getting many cast members, Jeremy Kagan and others together again to celebrate the film’s 30th anniversary. I’m going on November 1st…and if you live in Los Angeles, it’s well worth your time.

Vintage trailer below.

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