Koch Vision // 1961 // 91 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Kristin Munson (Retired) // December 24th, 2008
Play Misty for me.
Misty of Chincoteague is a perennial children's classic. Marguerite Henry's tale to of two children who want to catch and tame a wild pony won the Newbery Honor when it came out in 1947, and there hasn't been a horse-loving kid in the past 60 years who hasn't cherished the story at some point. The 1961 adaptation came to DVD several years ago as a dump bin cheapie and Koch Vision has resurrected it just in time for your youngster's yearly yuletide naggings for a pony of their own (Hi mom!).
Every year the residents of Chincoteague island travel to nearby Assateague to round up the wild ponies and sell the foals. In three years, the pony known as The Phantom has never been caught, but young Paul and Maureen Beebe want her to be theirs more than anything. For months they plan and save, but what they didn't expect was for The Phantom to show up on the big day with a baby in tow. Not only do the two need to find a way to gentle the wild horse, they need to find the money to bring home baby Misty.
Between Misty, Flipper, and A Dog of Flanders, director James B. Clark is an animal film veteran from days before family movies had to be sticky sweet or involve jokes about horse apples and hooves to the groin. Misty was filmed on the real Chincoteague, with the real wild horses that live there. For kids who love the book (and adults who still have their copies) it's pure magic, but other viewers will find the movie slightly clunky. The script is heavy on horsey and historical exposition and necessary facts are dropped into the dialogue in awkward chunks. Lines like "I'm the richest man on the whole island because I've got you for grandchilden" are especially cringe-worthy coming from a writer who penned so many memorable moments and minor characters in Them!. Luckily, Ted Sherdeman has also given Maureen a dose of spunk so the "no girls allowed" attitude of the early '60s doesn't sting as much as it could.
The film keeps the same gentle tone as the book and it delivers its lessons without spoon-feeding them to the audience -- work hard, be smart, and earn the things you want. I'd like to think those ideas still ring true, even though television is constantly telling me otherwise. Darn you modern kids, with your Blackberrys and your Berkin bags!
Koch's version of Misty is the first time the film has been seen in its the original aspect ratio, probably since its release. The included DVD trailer uses footage similar to the quality of my 2003 VHS copy and seeing the cleaned up feature is like stepping into Oz. What used to look like a watercolor now glows with the jewel tones of the Virginia coast. There are still some picture problems, minor ghosting during the beach shots for example, but otherwise the transfer is amazing. Having the movie cleaned up and in the correct format more than makes up for the absent extras, although they could have at least acknowledged the book with a text page.
Misty is never going to rival My Friend Flicka or National Velvet when it comes to classic horse films, but the cozy, simple story is a good bet for kids who want more ponies than plot.
It's Neigh Guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Vision
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 1961
MPAA Rating: Not Rated