Earlier this week, my family and I had the opportunity to attend an early screening of the new Disney movie, McFarland, USA. I love finding movies that are entertaining and engaging for our whole clan – from 9 to 43 and lots of ages in between. Although we saw the movie for free, all thoughts and opinions remain my own.
About McFarland, USA:
Based on the 1987 true story, Disney’s McFarland, USA follows novice runners from McFarland, an economically challenged town in California’s farm-rich Central Valley, as they give their all to build a cross country team under the direction of Coach Jim White (Kevin Costner), a newcomer to their predominantly Latino high school.
Coach White and the McFarland students have a lot to learn about each other but when White starts to realize the boys’ exceptional running ability, things begin to change. Soon something beyond their physical gifts becomes apparent—the power of family relationships, their unwavering commitment to one another and their incredible work ethic. With grit and determination, the unlikely band of runners eventually overcomes the odds to forge not only a championship cross country team but an enduring legacy as well. Along the way, Coach White realizes that his family finally found a place to call home and both he and his team achieve their own kind of American dream.
“These movies are never really only about sports—the sport is just the canvas on which to tell the journey of the characters,” says producer Gordon Gray. “This is really about a man trying to find a home for himself and his family and he found it in McFarland. It’s also an opportunity to tell this inspiring story about his bond with this team. I think he really did want to give them something that would allow them to better their lives. But he was also a coach—he wanted to win. And they did.”
According to Kevin Costner, who played the lead role of Jim White, “It’s a heart-felt story but it’s not a soft one. It definitely falls into the canon of Disney family films but among the elements that resonated with me was that it is a true story. You’re thrilled that this could actually happen in this small, American town. Jim White represents the difference an individual can make in a community like McFarland.”
Costner when on to say exactly how I felt about the movie: “They were like the little engine that could,” says Costner. “They didn’t have the trappings of success, didn’t have the gym with fancy equipment and didn’t even have the shoes. And somehow they did it. The greatest thing about athletics is that talent ultimately levels the playing field. Doesn’t matter what economic strata you come from. Can you run? Can you play? Can you compete? Jim recognized that in these seven boys and taught them to see it and believe that, too. This story follows these seven boys on their way to manhood and in the process they set a standard in that town that was followed by the entire community. Now young people growing up there want to be a part of the McFarland cross-country team.”
What My Family Thought About McFarland, USA
Every family member with me – from my youngest son, age 9, to my husband, who’s in his 40s, loved the movie. It was not a “kiddie” movie (I’d definitely recommend it for the older kids and parents) but on the other hand, there was nothing in the movie that I felt uncomfortable about watching with my kids. We laughed and cried along side each other, and in the end, we walked away feeling uplifted and rejuvinated.
As parents of teens, I think we saw ourselves more through Coach Jim White’s eyes than through the amazing athletes that he coaches. My kids talked more about the impact that each of the cross country runners had on them. My husband’s comment after seeing the movie echoes the message that I took away from it.
“I was inspired seeing someone choose a more difficult path, deal with current challenges, and work on them rather than give up.”
All of us highly recommend that you go see McFarland, USA! It’s good, clean family entertainment with a BIG heart.
Fun Facts about McFarland, USA:
• Coach Jim White is retired now, but if you go to McFarland, chances are you will see him out there on his bike, keeping up with the kids every evening with a lot of his original team running alongside as well. White retired in 2002 after teaching in McFarland schools for 40 years and coaching for 25 years.
• A number of the original runners on the championship 1987 cross-country team became educators in the McFarland school district. The former teammates are not only working in their hometown, but also raising their families there and actively supporting the cross-country teams of today by coaching, helping out with the meets and practices and donating goods or money so the teams have what they need.
• Three out of the seven young actors on the team in the movie are from the McFarland area—Sergio Avelar who plays Victor Puentes and Michael Aguero, cast as Damacio Diaz, are actual runners and Ramiro Rodriguez, as Danny Diaz, was a champion soccer player.
• Sergio Avelar is a bona fide runner and a member of the McFarland Track Club. He has been running since 2001 and considers himself a “decent runner.” One of his coaches in middle school was actually Thomas Valles, the real-life person represented by the role that Carlos Pratts plays.
• Kevin Costner, who plays Coach White, was a great hit with the young actors. He quietly mentored them and offered advice if they wanted it but for the boys, listening to Costner’s stories and watching movies with him in his trailer was a highlight. They felt so comfortable with the famous movie star that they even nicknamed him “KC.”
• Like the real McFarland team, all seven young actors had to train to become champion runners. Although some had more track and field experience than others, all of them took their drills very seriously. Mark Ellis, the coach hired to train them for the film, would have it no other way and the team evolved over time. But training them wasn’t as simple as merely putting shoes on their feet. Every morning at 8 a.m. the runners showed up for practice, which was literally running and more running to build up endurance.
• There were some unique cinematic opportunities in the filming of the movie, especially the embankments of almonds covered in protective plastic that served as training hills for the team. The expanse of these weird mounds across the landscape was visually arresting and certainly emblematic of McFarland, home to Blue Diamond Almonds.
• Classic lowriders are featured in “McFarland, USA” in several scenes. Lowriders are custom cars fitted with hydraulic jacks that allow the chassis to be lowered almost all the way to the road. Lowriding was very big in California’s Central Valley in the mid-’80s with Bakersfield being one of the lowriding epicenters of the area. Lowriding is often stereotypically depicted as gangster-related in film but the reality is that these car clubs are essentially about family and community and the cars are lovingly treasured.
Follow McFARLAND, USA on Facebook: facebook.com/mcfarlandusa
Follow Disney Pictures on Twitter: @disneypictures
McFARLAND, USA is rated PG and is now playing in theaters everywhere!
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