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Film / The Journey of Natty Gann

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The Journey of Natty Gann is a 1985 picaresque live-action Disney film starring Meredith Salenger, Jed the Wolfdog, Ray Wise, and John Cusack in one of his earliest major roles.

It's 1935, and with The Great Depression in full sway, finding a job is a matter of life and death. So when single dad Sol Gann (Wise) gets an offer to travel to the state of Washington to work as a logger, he can't possibly afford to refuse even though it means leaving his daughter Natty (Salenger) behind in Chicago until he can afford to buy her a train ticket to come join him.

Unfortunately, that takes time, and in the meantime everybody but Natty herself starts coming to the conclusion that she's been abandoned. When she realizes that she's about to be handed over into the custody of the state, Natty takes off on her own, hopping a train and heading west to try to find her father herself, no matter what obstacles she runs into along the way.

The film includes examples of:

  • Adults Are Useless: Mostly averted. While many of the adults Natty meets are unhelpful, so are many of the kids, and a few adults - such as Charlie the blacksmith and the woman at the milling operation - go out of their way to help her reunite with her father.
  • Air-Vent Passageway: Natty escapes the reform school via some kind of vent, anyhow.
  • All for Nothing: The blacksmith's assistance to Natty.
  • Amplified Animal Aptitude: Wolf appears at times to be the smartest character in the whole film. Most notably, the first time Natty encounters him again after helping him escape into the woods, he brings her a freshly-killed rabbit, leads her across the wilderness to a farmhouse, and protects the farmer's chicken coop from foxes for no apparent reason beyond repaying the farmer and his wife for helping Natty.
  • Androcles' Lion: Natty wins Wolf's friendship by helping him escape the dogfighting ring and later giving him some of her food.
  • Attempted Rape: G-rated version. A guy who gives Natty a ride in his truck tries to get way too friendly.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: Wolf repays Natty for saving him from a dog fighting ring by acting as her companion and protector.
  • Benevolent Boss: The logging foreman Sol works under gives him time off work to look for Natty, and while he allows him to take dangerous work after she's presumed dead, he tells Sol that "it won't bring her back."
  • The Blacksmith: Charlie, one of the few adults who goes out of his way to help Natty, works pounding iron.
  • Boarding School of Horrors: Nattie is very briefly put into a reform school when she's arrested for stealing a cow.
  • A Boy and His X: A girl and her wolf. The wolf is Natty's constant companion throughout the story, and the bond between them is one of the focal points of the movie
  • Brainy Brunette: Natty may not be the most educated child, but she's still very street smart.
  • Canine Companion: Wolf again. He's portrayed by Jed, a wolfdog also known for his appearances in White Fang and The Thing (1982)
  • Daddy's Girl: Particularly given the absence of her mother, Natty and her father are very close. She won't hear a negative word spoken about him and never once believes that he would intentionally abandon her.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Harry.
  • Death Seeker: After he thinks Natty was killed in a train accident, Sol starts volunteering for the most dangerous jobs available.
  • Delinquents: Natty briefly joins a gang of them while making her way to Washington. She joins them on a cattle rustling job and is caught by the authorities.
  • A Dog Named "Dog": A wolf named Wolf.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Several:
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Wolf always knows when trouble is coming.
  • Evil Orphanage Lady: Natty is briefly dumped into an orphanage run by such a lady.
  • Gentle Giant / The Grotesque: Charlie the blacksmith is a huge guy, a huge sweetheart, and has a partially-melted face.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Averted. Charlie has nasty burn scars covering one whole side of his face, but he's one of the nicest and most sympathetic adults Natty meets on her journey, despite his initial gruffness.
  • The Great Depression: The setting, and the reason that Sol has to go from Illinois to Washington - he can't afford to pass up the chance at paying work.
  • Heroes Love Dogs: Prior to rescuing Wolf, Natty is also seen adopting a stray puppy, which dialogue indicates is only the latest one that she's tried to bring home.
  • Heroic BSoD: Sol doesn't take it well when he thinks that Natty has been killed.
  • Hobos: Harry has been riding the rails for some time looking for work. Other hobos appear sporadically throughout as well, including an entire shantytown (or "hooverville", as they were sometimes known) where Harry and Natty are reunited.
  • Irony: Harry notes that the people who raid and burn down the Hooverville where he and Natty reunite are "Law-abiding citizens" and some of the town's elite.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Harry, whose jerk veneer is pretty thin.
  • Missing Mom: Natty's mother died at some point prior to the film.
  • Misunderstood Loner with a Heart of Gold: Charlie.
  • Noble Wolf: Wolf seems smarter than some humans and he repays debts of kindness to others, such as Natty for rescuing him and the farmer family for aiding Natty.
  • One of the Boys: Natty is a complete tomboy and is shown hanging out with boys rather than girls while she's living in Chicago.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: The girl at the reform school who befriends Natty and aids in her escape is only known as Twinky.
  • Parental Abandonment: Invoked. Characters regularly assume that Sol has simply abandoned Natty. She insists that he'd never do that.
  • Picaresque: The misadventures and scrapes Natty gets into on her journey
  • Plucky Girl: Natty.
  • Red Scare: Sol's pro-labor speeches and organizing has led at least a few other characters to think that he's a "Commie." Sol denies the label when Natty asks him if he is one.
  • Searching for the Lost Relative: Natty is searching for her father. He's taken a job as a logger out west, but couldn't bring her with him and was forced to leave her in Chicago. But he's gone for so long that the authorities are about to make Natty a ward of the state because they think she's been abandoned, so she runs away to find her father herself. Her father, meanwhile, learns of her plight and starts searching for her; this gets complicated when he's mistakenly led to believe she was killed in a train wreck.
  • Scenery Porn: While trying to reach her father, Natty travels through some gorgeous mountains and prairies that go on and on, although this is occasionally deconstructed with a Nature Is Not Nice moment, such as when she nearly freezes during a sudden rainstorm.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: It doesn't even take a change of clothes; Harry is visibly startled the first time he sees Natty after she's had a chance to wash her face and comb her hair.
  • Shoo the Dog: Ultimately, Natty encourages Wolf to return to the wild, though the final scene shows he's still watching over her from a distance.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Connie is directly responsible for the movie's plot and conflict by driving Natty to run away, but her presence in the movie is limited to four minutes of screen-time and two Newhart phone calls.
  • Tomboyish Name: "Natty" is short for "Natalie Sue."
  • Too Dumb to Live: The guy who tries to molest Natty while he's driving a truck and she has a wolf in the back.
  • Two Girls to a Team: The group of juvenile cattle rustlers Natty briefly joins has one other girl in it.
  • Train-Station Goodbye: At a bus station instead of a train station, when Harry departs for California.
  • Undying Loyalty: Wolf towards Natty. Even after she sends him off to return with his kind, the end shows he's still watching over her as she and her father reunite.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Natty and her friend Louie get Into a fist fight over the their respective fathers opinions. However, when Natty sees his family being evicted, she's devastated, calling out words of support and joining the crowd throwing rocks at the officers evicting the family.