"The Journey Of Natty Gann" is an enjoyable 1985 Disney film that really is quite different than the kind of children's film that is offered today. The film has strong messages about family that are enjoyable and not presented in a heavy-handed manner, but the film also has some scenes that are violent, shows characters drinking and generally would scare the youngest audiences.
Older children, however, may appreciate and enjoy the adventure tale. The film stars Meredith Salenger as Natty Gann, a young woman living in Depression era Chicago. When times get tough and her father (Ray Wise) must move out West to work, Natty is left behind in the care of a woman who runs the apartments where she lives. Saddened after being left on her own, Natty hops onto a train and heads out West to look for her father, eventually befriending a wolf and a drifter (John Cusack). Meanwhile, her father has found out about Natty's dissapearance and, seriously worried, sets out to look for her.
As mentioned, "Natty Gann" is unlike most Disney live-action pictures in the way that is dark, it is realistic and it certainly isn't sappy in the way that most of the studio's family fare is. However, I found that to be part of its appeal, as the film doesn't entirely follow formula or ever seem cliched. Salenger also offers a very strong and occasionally heartbreaking performance as a young woman trying to take care of herself in the world. While kids under 10 will likely be scared by the film, older children and adults should find this remarkable journey entertaining. I'd just recommend catching the film somehow other than Disney's disapointing new DVD.
VIDEO: Disney really disapoints with their presentation of "Journey Of Natty Gann". A film that was originally presented in 2.35:1 widescreen is presented only in a severely cropped pan & scan edition on this DVD. Combined with the dismal and irritating fact that this is a pan & scan presentation, this is simply a terrible looking transfer. It's difficult to know even where to start. Aside from some brighter outdoor sequences, the picture either looks soft or excessively soft, lacking in detail. The darkest scenes especially suffer, appearing murky and undefined.
The film appears even older than its 17 years. Grain ranges anywhere from appearing mild-to-heavy, while there are a fair amount of marks and specks on the print used. Pixelation is occasionally seen, while some slight edge ehancement also appears infrequently. The picture even seems to shake on a few instances, such as the opening credits.
Last, but not least, colors are not particularly well-rendered, as the film's earthy, subdued color palette either appears bland or muddy. I wasn't very pleased with this effort; it's terrible that this film wasn't presented in widescreen. The fact that this was so heavily panned and scanned and the general picture quality made this a difficult presentation to watch.
SOUND: "Journey Of Natty Gann" is presented in Dolby 2.0. The film's sound design is done by Leslie Shatz ("The Mummy", "The Mummy Returns"), who is one of the more highly regarded sound designers currently working. While this film is 17 years old at this point, the film's sound is actually quite good for an older release. There is a very enjoyable amount of ambience present in many scenes and some sound effects, such as the powerful engine of the train that Natty sneaks away in, have respectable power and clarity. Dialogue remained clear, as did James Horner's enjoyable score.
MENUS: Very basic and bland menus that essentially reuse the cover art.
Final Thoughts: "Natty Gann" is an exciting movie that offers fine performances and cinematography that's probably more beautiful than this DVD's presentation would indicate. Speaking of the DVD, while I am pleased that Disney is trying to offer lower-priced catalog titles, they need to seriously deliver titles in their original aspect ratio every time. This is an obviously rushed DVD release that I don't recommend.