1993 / Director. Mikael Saloman.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Disney have a history of making some wonderful and unexpected feature films. They're quite often modest and resist the urge to perform for box office takings. Some amazing films over the years have included 3RD MAN ON THE MOUNTAIN, NEVER CRY WOLF, SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, CHEETAH, WHITE FANG and A STRAIGHT STORY. In 1993 they produced A FAR OFF PLACE in conjunction with Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment. The film takes place in Africa where a teenage girl (Reese Witherspoon) lives with her father on a savanna. With the allegiance of other conversationists they wage war on poachers, which leads to all of them being massacred except for the girl and another American boy who is visiting on holiday. Fleeing into the vastness of the Kalahari desert with a local teenage tribesman the three of them attempt to cross 2000 miles of stark, arid & unforgiving sands. With dehydration, malnutrition and murderous poachers on their trail they defy the odds in this wonderful and uncompromising family adventure. I say "uncompromising" because of the fact that the darker themes are not skirted around and for a Disney film there is a lot of challenging material here for younger viewers. The film opens with a confronting slaughter of a herd of elephants, showing poachers barbarically cutting off their tusks with chainsaws. Nor does the film turn it's eye from the massacre of the conservationists. We might not be shown the killings but we are shown the aftermath, blood and all, from a teenage girl's perspective. Of course it's not gratuitous and these things aren't imposed on us for long but the visual impact is there. The story itself takes a lot of cues from Nicholas Roag's WALKABOUT and is told with some gorgeous cinematography... all shot on location. The teen leads are solid and my loathing of Reese Witherspoon is always easily suppressed when watching A FAR OFF PLACE. The supporting cast is strong too with strong performances from Maximilian Schell, Jack Thompson and Robert John Burke bringing extra credence to the film. There are a few easy bones to pick with the way these kids are always well dressed and seemingly healthy for such an arduous and long ordeal, but that's where the Disney touch comes into play and I can easily overlook all of that. In many ways the film is an educational piece for younger minds and would offer a sincere and enthralling eye-opener to Africa and some of the conservational struggles that threaten the continent. It's always a nice film to return to.