Picks and Pans Review: The Journey of Natty Gann

updated 01/27/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/27/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

In the beginning of this endearing film, we find out how well the 15-year-old girl who is the title character can take care of herself. At a Depression-era union meeting, the girl's father, Rick (Swamp Thing) Wise, is giving a speech that William Jennings Bryan would have been proud of. Meanwhile, the girl, inspiringly played by newcomer Meredith Salenger, is smoking her first butt in a men's-room stall with two boys. When one makes a disparaging remark about her dad, Salenger gives the kid the ol' one-two. Written by Jeanne (The Black Stallion) Rosenberg, this girl-and-wolf movie is distributed by the Disney Studios, but it is part of the nouveau-Disney mentality. It is as charming as anything done when Uncle Walt was alive, yet it has enough grit to be interesting for adults. Salenger begins her journey in Chicago, after her unemployed dad reluctantly accepts the last seat on a company bus headed for the state of Washington. He doesn't have time to find his motherless daughter and leaves her a note saying that he'll send for her. When Salenger's landlady wants to turn her over to the orphanage, the girl decides to head to Washington on her own. She soon meets up with hobo John (The Sure Thing) Cusack, who teaches Salenger the tricks of the trains. She also picks up a half-dog, half-wolf canine companion, and soon they are sharing food, caves and railroad cars. When the girl is caught stealing a bull with a band of young transients and is put in a juvenile detention center that's run like a concentration camp, the plot is stretched a little thin. This is especially true when Salenger escapes and climbs into the trunk of a car that just happens to be going right to the place where her pooch is being kept. It also seems unlikely that Cusack and Salenger would kiss at the end of their journey. Nevertheless, this is terrific family fare, with an appealing cast and some picturesque locations in the Northwest. (PG)

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