Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken
Tagline: The inspiring true-life adventure of a courageous young rebel who defied the odds...and won.
So the deal is this: either you like this movie, or you think it's an evil promotion of horse abuse. I guess this is a common occurrence with Disney, given that they tend to inspire love or hatred in everyone, but to truly get to the heart of the matter, one would have to really research horse diving. I don't have the time or patience for that, so I'll just chat about what I know after a cursory glance.
Horse diving. It happened. Lots happened, folks. People are easily entertained, and if a horse will willingly jump sixty feet into a pool of water, I guess this counts as entertainment. The thing is, this act was conceived in the 1880s and it took until the 1970s to legally bring it down. More to the point, it's still going on in a less severe form. I have read Ranch of Dreams, a book about an animal rescue farm and written by a preachy killjoy, about a former diving horse that wound up in an animal rescue after the act was shut down. The author was very snotty about horse diving, asking readers to imagine being trained to jump into a pool of water (amusing, considering professional divers have been trained to jump into a pool of water...hell, I have been trained to jump into a pool of water) and then be sold at auction when you're no longer useful...an auction where you could go to slaughter! Gasps all abound! Look. At least the horse had a job before people like that guy freaked out and made its job illegal, forcing the poor horse into auction where the kill buyers are looking for horses that have no purpose anywhere else. Good going, guy. That said, I don't think asking horses to jump sixty feet into water is a fantastic idea. It's certainly something I wouldn't be interested in paying to see. But if people are responsible about training the horse to do the trick, fine. Whatever. I watch horse racing, so I'm not throwing stones.
Now that we've resolved that, let's get to the movie. Sonora Webster and her sister, Arnette, are orphans living in Georgia. It's the Depression, and Sonora's an orphan living with her aunt, who is not doing too hot seeing as how they live in Georgia and it's during the Depression. In fact, Sonora's aunt is probably about ready to freak out, given that she's got too many kids around and for all we know she's a single mother. Sonora's inability to do anything other than stare at an advertisement for Atlantic City isn't helping matters, especially when she decides to chop off her hair in an attempt to appear fashionable. Her aunt flips out and smacks her around, then forces her to wear a paper bag over her head to school. Ah, tough love. Or no love. Whatever.
Sonora gets rid of the bag pretty quickly, and notices that the family horse is limping around in his paddock. She goes out there and removes a giant rock from his hoof, and proceeds to fondle him in a way only horse loving girls can. Then the classic horse story antagonist shows up, a girl who not only ridicules Sonora's hair, but puts down Lightning, the family horse. Sonora isn't having that, and starts to mouth off about how Lightning is the fastest, bestest jumper in the whole county! Well, horse story antagonist girl can smell that lie and dares Sonora to prove it. Not only that, she double dares her. You know things are serious now, so Sonora rips her hem off her skirt to fashion reins on Lightning's halter, leaps up on him, and heads him to a fence that he completely demolishes because he's a draft horse, for Christ's sake. The cows get out, and Sonora is late for school. She gets detention. Antagonist girl has the nerve to moo at her, and Sonora makes an attempt to pull one of the girl's braids before apparently deciding it would be much more satisfying to punch the girl in the nose. Sonora is suspended, but refuses to leave the school. Therefore she is ignored the rest of the day.
When she returns home, her aunt has discovered what has happened all ready, and has acted out by selling Lightning. Then she smacks Sonora again and tells her that she's sending her away to the state. She cannot handle this anymore, people. She is done. Sonora then makes the executive decision to run away, and does so after seeing an ad for diving girls in a local paper. So she runs off to a local fair, where Doc Carver has his diving horse show set up. There Sonora meets hot dog boy (I can't remember his name, but he later becomes important as Sonora's groom, ignored fanboy, and later the inventor of the motorcycle cage of death) before running into her true love, Al Carver, whom she saves by hiding his hidden ace right when some nitwits try to beat him up after rightly discovering he was cheating at poker.
She meets Doc Carver after Al indicates that the only thing fun in his life is gambling and whoring (oh, Al). Doc is not impressed with Sonora, and it's indicated all around during this meeting that he's not impressed with her because her breasts aren't large enough. Of course, maybe I'm reading into his lecture about strength, but when he points to the picture of his current diving girl, Marie, his pointer goes straight to Marie's much larger chest. And he looks flustered. Very flustered. Sonora refuses to go, so he picks up the chair she's clinging to and tosses her outside. She eventually finds Al, and guilts him into showing her around when she gives him back his ace. Then Doc gives her a job as stable hand and they go to Virginia, where Al gets a new horse from a poker game and convinces Sonora to help train him. Sonora names the new horse Lightning, and he's this gorgeous gray. If I'd bothered to screencap this movie, I would have been screencapping him constantly.
Eventually Lightning is trained, following classic horse story guidelines to romance while horse training (lunging together, check). Al eventually makes his move while they're swimming, kissing Sonora, and she freaks and swims off. Then Doc lays down the gauntlet, telling Sonora that if she can mount Lightning while he's moving, she can train as a new diving girl. After many, many, many falls, Sonora finally does it, all the while concerning Al to the point of flipping out at his dad, who smacks and then punches him. There is a lot of family dysfunction in this movie...way more than the normal amount. Anyway, Al decides to leave and tells Sonora he will write her. He does, but Doc burns all of his letters but one before Sonora can get to them.
Anyway, eventually Marie dislocates her shoulder and Sonora gets to be the diving girl. Marie quits in disgust at not being the center of attention, and Sonora is the main attraction for a while as they go from small state fair to small state fair. Eventually there are no more state fairs, given that the Depression is so bad and what all. Al comes back and miraculously saves Lightning from colic (or something like that), and asks Sonora why she never answered his letters. But, she did not receive any letters! But this doesn't matter. He has secured a contract at Atlantic City for the diving horse show, and on their way there Doc dies.
They arrive at Atlantic City. Al and Sonora get engaged, and then she has her disaster dive and hits the water with her eyes open. She hemorrhages and eventually goes blind, becoming increasingly pissy and annoyed with her life until Al decides to let her try to train again. It doesn't work out, and he gets Marie to come back to the show so they don't get kicked out of Atlantic City for breach of contract. But then Sonora decides to spend a night with Lightning, fondling him all over during a thunderstorm. I recall several years ago when I was watching this one day, that at this very scene my father passed by, paused, and asked me if I was watching The Hand that Rocks the Cradle. No. No, I was not.
Anyway, then the classic horse story kicks in full gear. Groom/hot dog/motorcycle boy locks Marie in her dressing room, switches the chestnut Marie normally uses with Lightning, and Sonora climbs up the ladder. Lightning is released just before Al realizes what's going on, and Sonora makes the jump despite being blind. Everyone is relieved and happy when both come out of the water unharmed. Then sappy voice over starts about how Sonora was a diving girl for the next eleven years and how she and Al lived happily ever after.
When Sonora Webster saw this movie, she indicated that the only thing true about it was that she dove horses for eleven years while blind, and she married Al. I guess she wasn't very much into the sentiment that this movie laid on pretty thick in places, but that's creative license for you. It's an okay movie, pretty typical Disney from that era. What I find the most interesting is that it's Michael Schoeffling's last movie, and I never realized that he was even in this until recently. And I just now realized he's the guy in Sylvester, another horse movie I loved when I was little (and there was teen sex in a stall in that one...I'll have to watch it again for sure). Apparently Michael Schoeffling lives in northeastern Pennsylvania and makes furniture now. This I find unfortunate, because if two of the ten movies he made were horse movies, imagine what he could have been typecast as. He could have been Brad Townsend. This saddens me.
So what's next, guys? I have a very impressive Netflix queue waiting me (141 dvds), but I can add new ones or send a specific title to the top of the list easily enough. More Wildfire? Another movie? What do you say?
Okay, so I'll finish this entry with a photo of real horse diving.