Only last year, filmmaker David Kirschner shared his passion for the great books by making “The Pagemaster” as a hint that children might get more good out of the public library than the neighborhood movie theater.
That fine attitude seems to be contagious: Jeremiah Chechik’s “Tall Tale,” new from Disney, offers a tempting reminder of the richness of American folklore - another storytelling idiom that is best appreciated between the covers of a book.
But these legends have the makings of grand cinema, too, and “Tall Tale” is as swell a live-actioner as the Disney machine has turned out. Lavishly produced and propelled by larger-than-life heroic portrayals from Patrick Swayze, Catherine O’Hara, Roger Aaron Brown and Oliver Platt, this one is a winner that should spur the family audience to head out to the nearest library to grab up all the frontier mythology it can find.
Wild Westerners Pecos Bill (Swayze) and Calamity Jane (O’Hara), superhuman lumberjack Paul Bunyan (Platt) and railroad-building titan John Henry (Brown) are the heroes of kid star Nick Stahl’s daydreams, passed along to him by his dad (Stephen Lang). When treachery and neartragedy strike his family, Stahl sets out to hide valuable documents - but becomes lost in the process.
Enter Pecos Bill, followed by his fellow legends, who team up to help Stahl save the family estate from the clutches of bad-guy businessman Scott Glenn. Screenwriter Steven L. Bloom is working under the old saw about believing in oneself, and darned if the sentiment doesn’t work!
The climactic confrontation, involving an inexorably approaching train, is a ripsnorting corker, and both the fantastic good guys and the broadly sketched villains have the right mixture of hokum and heroism.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with story: “Tall Tale” Location and time: East Sprague, Lyons and Showboat cinemas. Cast: Directed by Jeremiah Chechik; starring Patrick Swayze, Oliver Platt, Roger Aaron Brown, Nick Stahl Running time: 96 minutes Rating: PG