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Published: Wednesday, 3/9/2005

Disney TV movie teaches gentle lesson of getting along

BY MIKE KELLY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
<i>Buffalo Dreams</i> premieres Friday on the Disney Channel. <i>Buffalo Dreams</i> premieres Friday on the Disney Channel.
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What happens when a bigcity teenager is uprooted by his family and transported to a small town in the Southwest that s bordered by a Navajo reservation and surrounded by a buffalo preserve?

If it s a Disney production, you can bet there will be a few G-rated bumps in the road, a few lessons to be learned, and an ultimately satisfying ending.

And that s pretty much what you get with Buffalo Dreams, the Disney Channel s latest original movie. It premieres Friday at 8 p.m.

The movie, which is aimed at kids age 6 to 14, tells the story of 14-year-old Josh Townsend (Reiley McClendon, Eddie s Million Dollar Cook-Off) and 18-year-old Thomas Blackhorse (Simon R. Baker, Into the West, The Missing), a couple of young guys from different backgrounds who start out disliking each other and wind up well, it s a Disney story, so you can probably figure it out.

Josh s father is supposed to be this bright astrophysicist who has moved his wife and son to New Mexico for a new job, but as played by George Newbern (Providence), he s a befuddled dolt, much like Alex Keaton s clueless dad was in the old TV show Family Ties. For example, knowing his son loves mountain biking, Dad tries to ease the boy s transition to his new surroundings by surprising him

with a rusty old bicycle that would barely be adequate on a suburban cul-de-sac, much less a rugged mountain trail.

Nice gesture, Dad, but geez, get a clue, will ya?

Over on the other side of the cultural divide, Thomas may be a full-blooded Navajo and work on the buffalo preserve whose herds are real bison, not computer-generated images but he has little use for the customs and traditions of his ancestors.

This does not go over well with his grandfather, John Blackhorse,

played with stoic dignity by veteran actor Graham Greene (The

Green Mile, Dances with Wolves, and a million other fi lms about

Native Americans).

As much as Grandpa is a traditionalist, though, he s not without humor. When Thomas shows little interest in learning about living off the land, Grandpa deadpans, I could teach you to be the next Survivor.

Paradoxically, even though Thomas doesn t care much about his tribe s way of life, he resents tourists who don t respect it.

So naturally he s less than welcoming to Josh, who s desperate

to make some friends.

But encouraged by his grandfather, Thomas cautiously accepts

Josh, then regrets it when the newcomer reveals the secret location of a sacred tribal landmark to a rowdy group of local mountain bikers who trash it.

To redeem himself with Thomas, Josh decides to stand up to Kyle, the arrogant leader of the bikers. They agree to settle their differences like real men with a grueling, no-holdsbarred

mountain bike race at a local ski resort.

If Josh wins, Kyle must stay off Indian land forevermore. And if Kyle wins? Hey, this a Disney movie, folks. You think the villain is gonna win?

When race day fi nally dawns, it s like the Olympics, except without the drug testing. There s a festive atmosphere at the ski resort, Kyle and Josh are gritting their teeth and adjusting their helmets, and the local radio station is set to broadcast race updates to the three people in town who aren t out lining the mountain to see the action in

person.

The race begins, and it s a doozy, with both boys bikes kicking up rocks and dirt galore, and the lead changing hands several times.

At the top of the mountain, however, something unexpected

happens. There s a crisis, and rather than spoil it for you, we ll

just say that most everybody gets involved in saving the day

everybody, that is, except Kyle, who s evidently an incorrigible

punk who will never get right with nature and is destined to become a career criminal, or at least a B-movie actor.

As in most Disney fi lms aimed at young audiences, Buffalo

Dreams has some big lessons to impart in this case, they include

things like racial tolerance, environmental awareness, and

the need to be in balance with Mother Earth and as usual,

subtlety is not particularly high on the agenda.

These are all worthwhile concepts, and if they happen to be

wrapped up a neat but schmaltzy package as only Disney can do

it, hey, that s OK. There are lots worse ways to learn some of life s

lessons.



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