Girls gone horse wild!
Lisa Lunkhead is the revered child of a woman who obsessively believes that, since offspring are the golden byproduct of her molded loins, she must take every opportunity to smother them with motherly safeguards. This wreaks havoc on her child's placement in the grade school peer pressure hierarchy. When she arrives at Pine Hollow, an ultra-exclusive riding club for other precocious, privileged pikers, Moms makes the first impression faux pax of nearly running over the sour little Stevie and the bug eyed co-conspirator Carole, both adorned with high class horseflesh between their designer jeans. Then Lisa the loser again makes the wrong upwardly mobile move and starts hanging out with the atrociously snooty, bitter blonde Veronica. Within ten minutes of arriving, she is the most socially outcast rider in the stables. And it doesn't get any better. Her cell phone goes off and spooks Stevie's steed. She has to beg to be invited to the overnight trail ride. And once there, she develops a severe case of galloping gluteus and finds it difficult to sit down without breaking a sweat. But when she saves the scheming Veronica from a pack of wild dogs with her emergency rape whistle, she is suddenly on everyone's society calendar, even the dyspeptic duo of Carole and Stevie. Soon, Lisa is an accepted member of the most advantaged group of all: condescending Caucasian children. It's all part of growing up and experiencing friendship and class structures as part of The Saddle Club: The First Adventure.
What is it with girls and horses? Especially little girls, like pre-teen age? Forget all the pseudo sexual Freudian falderal, drag your drawers out of the gutter and let's seriously try to understand the issue. Horses are huge, haunch heavy behemoths, built for speed and damn near poetry in motion, a perfect amalgamation of God's beast building machinery. Little girls are frail, fragile pixies in ponytails who seem too tiny and timid to tame such a muscled mammoth (wow, is this getting too gay?). These two divergent elements shouldn't mesh. They're like oil and water, or Penelope Cruz and attractiveness. Yet all throughout the course of literature and the media of the masses, we witness the marriage of kindergartener to colt and marvel at the merry mix. Examples are as prevalent as "apples" on the straw floor of a stable. There's My Friend Flicka, Black Beauty, My Little Pony and now, The Saddle Club. But instead of providing insight into why young lasses love to mount sturdy steeds and ride them long and hard until they're hot and…sorry…we get a stupid pubescent soap opera, an outdoors Degrassi Junior High with bucking broncos. This is one children's show that drags out the old snobs vs. slobs, rich bitch against the cute kids chestnut and beats it like a dead…well, you get the idea. About the only clue offered in The Saddle Club: The First Adventure as to why females like fetlocks is that stallions are status symbols: a way that passive parental units can show that they have far too much disposable income in their 401(k) and no other way of expressing love for their child except through a major financial expenditure and accompanying outlay of cash for lash lessons and mane maintenance.
Sure, there is really nothing so horrible here. The story of poor overprotected Lisa and her attempts to fit it at the exclusive Saddle Club do provide micro-moments of adolescent diversion factors, cornball jokes, and a smidgen of sentimentality to help cement the palpable morals about friendship and sharing. The girls are likeable in a plain Jane Canadian sort of way, and there's even a completely shameless villain in Veronica, a stuck up snob with a riding crop rammed up her butt. Add plenty of Aussie accents to increase the outdoor adventure factor (damn you Steve Irwin!) and populate with all manner of foals and steeds, and—voila!—instant Downunder kids television programming. And as the old adage goes, where there are horses, there are stables. And where there are stables, there are wheelbarrows full of horse poop; more than enough to satiate any pre-teen mind. Indeed, a good percentage of The Saddle Club activities center on the proper acknowledgement and removal of pony dung. About the only thing that can compete for screen time with these manure machinations is hormonally charged hyperactive puppy love. There is an inordinate amount of plot spent with a peon named Red and a doe eyed drone named Kristi. This boy crazy colic queen keeps thrusting her lack of upper body development at the Crimson farm hand, only to have him snub her like a case of girth sores. We should be thankful when a small amount of riding and life lessons are tossed in amongst the grooming rituals and juvenile grab ass. The Saddle Club: The First Adventure is like Equus without all the graphic psychosexual mustang porn. These girls are crazy about colts, but just not in that way.
Warner Brothers desperately wants The Saddle Club to become another kid vid juggernaut, ala the Olson Twins, Scooby Doo, and ER. Yet their DVD packaging smacks of the bottom line and barrel. The image is fairly decent, the full screen transfer suffering from a little-too-soon cosmetic soft focus and fog. The Dolby Digital Stereo Surround is also a disappointment. Since this is mostly a show about shrill voiced quasi-Queenslanders chattering like chickpeas, about the only immersive experience you will have is the sensation of being in an all girl's high school during lunch hour (trust me). So it's the extras that really flesh out the series and showcase the production and people behind it, right? As a classic late night talk show host once said, "Wrong again Mr. Ed breath." Aside from a superficial set of trailers for other innocuous titles and a featurette that could best be described as Competitive Show Jumping for Incredible Dummies, there is not one ounce of Saddle Club data. No info about the author of America's supposed #1 Best-Selling Horse Book Series (which is a lot like saying the USA's #1 Arc Welding manuals). No breakdown on the characters or the location. Just DVD-ROM links for site access that, for this critic, meant absolutely nothing (as it was unavailable).
The DVD presentation of The Saddle Club: The First Adventure may just be a couple of the Season 1 television episodes tossed together in an attempt to make a seamless bit of cinema, but it wants to be more than that. It wants to be the foundation for a whole new era in equestrian appreciation. But as hard as it tries to be Multi-National Velvet or an elitist's Seabiscuit, it can barely create a carefree Casey's Shadow. Someone needs to put this pinto out to pasture pronto.
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