Flicka and All Those Pretty Horses
By Madelyn Ritrosky
Flicka is the latest remake to come out of Remake City, aka Hollywood, and the latest screen adaptation of Mary O’Hara’s 1941 classic children’s book, My Friend Flicka. The story was originally adapted for the silver screen by Twentieth Century-Fox soon after the book came out.
That 1943 film, featuring a young Roddy McDowall as the boy who befriends a wild horse, was soon followed by adaptations of the two other books in O’Hara’s trilogy. The 1943 novel Thunderhead, Son of Flicka became a 1945 film (also with McDowall). And her 1946 Green Grass of Wyoming hit theaters in 1948 (no more McDowall, but featuring Charles Coburn as the father). A decade later the 1956-58 television series brought My Friend Flicka into postwar America’s living rooms.
Now we have the 2006 version, also brought to us by Twentieth Century-Fox (global descendant of the studio era company). Just like the original, Flicka is family entertainment, but with a touch of environmental politics (the plight of wild horses, the treatment of rodeo horses, the buying up of vast ranches to subdivide into second-home tracts for the wealthy) and subtle gender politics (the male protagonist of all previous incarnations becomes female in the current film).
The film revolves around a 16-year-old girl’s struggle to basically be herself and do what she loves, which means butting heads with her father over several issues, one of which is the wild horse she finds and names Flicka. Her supportive mother and brother, who has his own dreams, round out the family-centered drama. Alison Lohman is Katy McLaughlin, country singer Tim McGraw is her father Rob, Maria Bello plays her mother Nell, and TV actor Ryan Kwanten the brother.
The two things that struck me most were the beautiful cinematography during the wild horse and mountain riding sequences where Katy’s words (from a school essay she is completing) provide a poignant and informative voice-over, and the fact that the central character is a young woman.
The simple fact which really isn’t that simple at all given the majority of things that have come out of Hollywood that this version is an independent young woman’s coming-of-age story is appealing. In fact, the plot doesn’t even feature a single would-be boyfriend and there’s not a whiff of a date or any sign that Katy feels the need to deviate from her dreams to pander to any male interests except the imposed but well-meaning authority of her father.
The scene where Katy first stumbles on Flicka struck a chord with my 7-year-old son. There she is, a magnificent dark horse standing in the lush greens and yellows of a mountain clearing. Then a cougar makes itself known and Flicka thunders toward it, rearing and neighing, scaring it away from Katy. Eying Katy, the horse then trots off, leaving us to ponder this scene’s various possible functions later in the story…
Not surprisingly, McGraw was the executive producer of the soundtrack for the film and wrote and performed one of the movie’s featured songs, My Little Girl.
Because some readers may have heard about this, I want to close by noting the controversy that occurred during the making of the film earlier this year. Taking my information from the American Humane Association’s website and their report of their monitoring of the production, two of the numerous horses that worked on this film died in freak accidents during filming.
There were formal investigations at the time, and while the AHA reports that they were indeed unfortunate accidents, the seal of approval usually given in credits could not be endorsed. So you will not read the line “No animals were harmed in the making of this motion picture.” You will read that the AHA did monitor the handling of animals in the film.
Flicka, which is rated PG, opens in theaters on Friday, October 20, 2006.