All over the country, little girls with equine fixations will be blinking dreamy eyes at their daddies and pleading please please prettyplease can we see the pony movie? And oddly enough, Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story is the cinematic equivalent of deploying nascent feminine wiles. “Please don’t shoot the horse with the broken leg, Daddy,” Dakota Fanning with her enormous eyes brimming with tears and her quivering lip doesn’t exactly say, though she might as well have. “Please nurse the horse back to health at tremendous personal expense and sacrifice so you can later give it to me as a prezzie and I can train her and we can enter the massively prestigious Breeder’s Cup race with her! Pul-eeeeeeze!” Dakota’s Daddy, after all, is Kurt Russell, who did pretty much the same thing recently with the 1980 American Olympic ice hockey team'let’s call this one Mare-icle.
I guess they kinda have to tell you in the title that the flick is based on a true story to help you buy a lot of stuff that’s fairly preposterous even if it makes you feel good about American can-do-it-iveness and the power of little girls to get grown men to do their bidding. The pretty filly SoÃ±ador'nicknamed Sonya'was inspired by the real comeback story of champion Mariah’s Storm, who broke her leg but came back to win more major races. Of course, there’s no need to make up the magic of spunky little girls who get crusty old men and wounded younger ones to, respectively, uncrust and get well.
But somehow I suspect a lot of the other aspects of Dreamer were invented. Like how, right in the beginning of the movie, poor little Dakota is kept out of the owners’ area of the racetrack by a velvet rope, because her daddy is only a trainer, while mean evil David Morse (the guy her daddy works for) looks on in disdain. And you just know that before the movie is over, she’ll be behind that velvet rope and David Morse will just have to lump it.
Or like how SoÃ±ador just happens to mean “dreamer” in Spanish. If they’d made the movie about Mariah’s Storm, they’d have to call it Storm Front or something like that. Then everyone would think that was the sequel to Twister and not a reliably predictable triumph-of-the-human-and-horsey-spirit kind of thing. Folks were cheering at the end of my screening as if the victory of horse and child weren’t a foregone conclusion from the moment the idea first entered the head of writer-director John Gatins. If you haven’t seen the other 18,943,321 iterations of this exact same story, you’re sure to enjoy it perfectly fine.
Even if you have seen 9 million other movies just like Dreamer, you might enjoy it anyway, because Dakota Fanning really is a remarkable young actor. I can’t think of another young girl who can command the screen the way she can, unless maybe you go way back to Shirley Temple. But Fanning’s is a much more mature talent, with nothing of Temple’s dressed-up-little-doll cutesiness. Russell is charming, too, in that crusty-old-guy-who-needs-fixing kind of way'he’s a washed-up dreamer himself, and his relationship with his even crustier father (Kris Kristofferson) needs help, which girl and horse will of course take care of. And Freddy Rodriguez is delightful as the jockey who can’t get over the trauma of an accident on the tracks, and even more delightful when Dakota and her big eyes and her pretty, pretty horse make him well again.
Perhaps, then, the most reliably predictable thing about Dreamer is that, with this cast, you can count on being in for a good time even though you know how it’ll end before it even begins. You could do a lot worse at the movies these days than that.