Fox // 2007 // 92 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // May 5th, 2008
Sometimes being different is the best way to fit in.
Where can you possibly turn to if you find yourself enveloped with an overwhelming desire to settle in for a family-friendly comedy about a young, sassy girl and her love for a horse and forcing it to competitively jump obstacles? Fox has the answer for you!
Kay Panabaker stars as the titular character, the undersized, friendless but chock-full-o'-spunk young girl who's got a flaky hippie for a mom (Lori Loughlin) and a life of constant haranguing from the cool girls at the school that have names like "Megan" and "Fiona." So what is a lonely young lady with a deceased father and no prospects for healthy peer relationships to do? How about ride a horse?
Yeah, that's the ticket, and when a chance encounter brings Moondance and a runaway horse named Checkers together it's love at first sight. Checkers is owned by a grumpy washed-up horse trainer named Dante (Don Johnson, Nash Bridges) and after much pleading, Moondance convinces him to let her ride the horse in exchange for mucking stalls.
The two eventually form a teacher/student relationship when Moondance enters a horse-jumping competition. Can our heroine overcome a lack of money and talent and a bout of horse colic and the berating of the cool girls and find the strength to win?
Yes of course she @#$%ing can. Moondance Alexander is a by-the-book G-rated children's movie. That means Moondance will persevere and the down-and-out horse trainer will rediscover his love for life and the horse that no one though would win finds a way to kick ass. It's a familiar formula, but you know, it's proven and it works well here.
When I'm watching these low-impact, easy-lifting family films there are just a few questions I ask to arrive at a recommendation: 1) are the clichés too abrasive, 2) is the writing feeble, 3) are the characters likable. Usually if it's a "no" to any of these, then the movie earns a thumbs-up and, in short, Moondance qualifies -- it's a fun, well-executed charmer of a film and will no doubt earn significant viewing hours from the young lady in your family.
Usually low-hanging fruit with films of this ilk, and Moondance boasts its share of genre norms, but to its credit, I thought I had this thing pegged from the get-go, but a few curveballs were tossed. For example, I was convinced that Moondance's mom and Don Johnson were going to end up together, as the gameplan required but...well, surprise. Even the big final contest between our feisty protagonist and the jackass mean girl unspooled differently than I had foreseen. That's not to say this thing ends with Moondance succumbing to a heroin habit in a darkened alley, so yeah it's a happy ending, but that's cool.
Not bad. It's not laugh-a-minute or edgy, but the script is honest -- devoid of even a molecule of inappropriateness -- and touching. Part of the credit certainly goes to the performances, but writing team Michael and Janeen Damian (the story is based on Janeen's experience as a young girl riding a horse named Checkers) have crafted a nice little tale.
It's all about Kay Panabaker, who's a little dynamo. None of the characters are unlikable (save for the ones that are supposed to be unlikable), but it's Panabaker's movie. Her Moondance is an authentic, resilient and sympathetic young woman with a good sense of self-awareness and a polite demeanor. She's kind of the "anti-Juno" and it's a good stylistic choice from Michael Damian. The opening scene where she fruitlessly garners signatures for her yearbook establishes her naiveté and earnestness and I was immediately rooting for her.
I don't really have anything negative to say about this movie. OK, I actually didn't like the name "Moondance Alexander," which strikes me as a contrived wannabe hip and different title, but besides that, everything else works. I won't watch it again, but if the time ever comes when I have a sweet-natured daughter that likes horses, this will be an easy recommendation.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen is clean, though the colors weren't as rich as I would have liked to see, considering the bright, rural setting of the film. The 5.1 mix s decent though there's not much work for it do here, save the pop musical training montage. Three extras of note: a music video, a short making-of documentary and a featurette on the music composition.
What else is there to say? The target audience will enjoy this film greatly and you won't feel guilty having them watch it.
Not guilty. Yee haw.
Review content copyright © 2008 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated G
* Behind the Scenes
* Soundtrack Featurette
* Music Video