Disney Entertainment isn’t making the best decisions these days. It has cut its own in-house animation studio down to almost nothing, the board of directors is in a messy battle to have CEO Michael Eisner step down and now the studio is making movies based on “true stories” that are completely false, such as Hidalgo, the new film from the screenwriter of Young Guns and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.
The film is about a horse named Hidalgo and his owner, famous long distance horse racer Frank T. Hopkins (Viggo Mortensen). Frank, who was half Native American, worked as a courier for the Pony Express in the 1890s and for a Wild-West show alongside “Wild Bill” Hickok and Calamity Jane.
According to imdb.com, experts have said that Hopkins told stories about racing horses and many of them were true. The Web site also states that the movie is based on a collection of made up stories.
Frank — the film’s protagonist underdog who’s racing on a mixed breed wild mustang pony — is pitted against princes riding the era’s finest breeds of Arabian racehorses.
The plot suggests that Frank will win against better horses in a completely foreign environment. It would be a leap of faith at best for audiences to believe this to be a fairy tale, and asking for belief in a plot that is supposed to be true is almost criminal.
The movie quickly loses its sense of drama and moves into stereotypes. The native people do not accept or encourage Frank. The politics of the horserace become evident, catching him in the middle of warring tribes.
In the second half, the film takes on the action/adventure genre and loses its focus.
The scenes are shot well and the action makes sense, but it is distracting to the overall drama. The characters become reduced to stereotypes, and the film doesn’t recover. No new takes on the outsider-drama storyline are offered, and the music swells and fades with the action in cheesy syncopation.
Mortensen’s performance is almost imperceptible. His acting style removes him from the film, leaving the other actors to fill out the dialogue with action. At first, it almost seems as if he is out-acted by his supporting cast, especially the sheik (Omar Sharif). But Mortensen has his moments, which comes with scenes about Frank’s “true essence.”
However, the film offers a look into a part of the 19th century that hasn’t been previously explored by Hollywood. It mixes big budget action with Wild West drama.
It’s a great film to see in the theater, and it’s mature enough to keep older viewers attention.
Yet, Hidalgo is not a must see, and it’s not going to win any awards in the next round of Oscars.