Disney’s new movie ‘McFarland, USA’ plays all the right moves


B+Verdict: Touching, simple and well executed fairy-tale based on an extraordinary true story. There isn’t much else to ask for in a good Disney movie.

The new movie from Walt Disney Studios hits the right notes a Disney’s picture should. And despite a screenplay that seems formulaic at some points, “McFarland, USA” does well in the mission it sets to accomplish and brings an important conversation to a wide audience.

Starring Kevin Costner as Jim White, the movie tells the real story of a high school football coach who moves to a small California town where the majority of the population is Hispanic. There, Jim finds talented runners and decides to create McFarland High School’s first cross-country team.

“McFarland, USA” plays well in the fairy-tale, zero to winner genre Disney does so well. Rather than trying to fight the genre and its well-known tropes, it is much better to go along with it. The movie then becomes a very enjoyable and light-hearted experience.

Adding a positive to this experience is the fact that neither the director, Niki Caro, nor the writers, Chris Cleveland, Bettina Gilois and Grant Thompson, overdramatize the narrative. In fact, “McFarland, USA” presents the same level of dramatic intensity as any other Disney film: Despite all the lows, the hero will eventually return for the final battle. And this is a good thing because “McFarland, USA” never tries to become anything beyond what it is meant to be.

Here and there, stereotypes still permeate, such as in the scene where Jim and his family are leaving a restaurant and he confuses a car club with a gang. The plot’s beginning also resembles the classic Western genre, where the civilized man brings civilization to those that are not like him. To begin the film with this plot device isn’t a dream start, but it is, at least, a start for a conversation. In a positive note, this conflict of races is overcome early, allowing the movie to be truly about the building of a great cross-country team out of kids who had no hopes of a future.

“McFarland, USA” is not only an honest movie. It is also a very courageous one. To present the stigmatized Latino community to a younger audience in a positive light is one of the film’s high points. When Jim’s daughter falls in love with Thomas (Carlos Pratts), the fastest runner in the team, the director never weighs the story down with unnecessary prejudices or drama of an interracial relationship. These themes have already been over explored under the lenses of prejudice and there would be no reason to restate them here. This choice by both the director and the screenwriters is beautiful and admirable, for it shows this love is just like any other love. And it must be equally accepted.

The presence of Kevin Costner only makes the movie better. Costner is composed and secure, avoiding the trap of the big, constant drama that many inexperienced actors fall into. As a whole, the reactions from all the actors always match the expectations of the story in performances that never exaggerate or underplay the scenes.

It is obvious that the problems of the Latino community in the United States are just brushed upon. Some of them are present such as the parents who see no value in a high school degree while others, like the battle for legal status, are absent. However, those are issues that go much beyond the scope of a Disney movie. The greatest quality of “McFarland, USA” is to start a conversation that is much needed in the present United States. And for any fair debate where children will someday voice their opinions, it is necessary that these kids and teens grow without any prejudices carried down from their parents. This fair and intelligent debate is a dream. And, after all, shouldn’t Disney movies make us dream?