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The Big Green DVD Review

"The Big Green" movie poster - click to buy from MovieGoods.com The Big Green

Theatrical Release: September 29, 1995 / Running Time: 100 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Holly Goldberg Sloan

Cast: Steve Guttenberg (Sheriff Tom Palmer), Olivia d'Abo (Anna Montgomery), Jay O. Sanders (Jay Huffer), John Terry (Edwin V. Douglas), Chauncey Leopardi (Evan Schiff), Patrick Renna (Larry Musgrove), Billy L. Sullivan (Jeffrey Luttrell), Yareli Arizmendi (Marbelly Morales), Bug Hall (Newt Shaw), Jessie Robertson (Kate Douglas), Anthony Esquivel (Juan Morales), Jordan Brower (Nick Anderssen), Hayley Kolb (Sophia Convertino)

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Comedy movies about children's sports teams are nothing new today and they were nothing new eleven years ago. But that didn't keep Walt Disney Pictures from releasing The Big Green to theaters.
The most distinguishing feature about this entry to the genre is its setting of Elma, a town in Texas which is small, slow, and fiscally crippled. Upon the film's opening, a young British lady named Anna Montgomery (Olivia d'Abo, of "The Wonder Years") arrives in Elma to spend a semester as part of a teaching exchange program. Her very first encounter is with a quartet of local boys who are passing the time as small townsfolk do: covered in Cheetos so that birds can eat directly off their clothed bodies.

The fictional Elma is so tiny that its lone school is separated into just two classes, one of which -- "the big kids" -- will be home to Miss Montgomery for a semester. If you expect the foreigner to introduce some evidently needed academic improvements, you're looking at the wrong film. Almost instantly, Anna gives up on the schoolwork and tries instead to inspire the students with football or, as the ten pupils know it, soccer.

From this point on, the proceedings are as conventional and familiar as you'd expect, but they're not unlikable. With the help of the town's goofy sheriff Tom (Steve Guttenberg) -- a former high school football star who the boys mockingly now call "Deputy Dawg" -- Anna transforms the class of self-described losers from nothing to something. That something is The Big Green, a soccer team which takes its name from the field on which it practices. Half the players are girls, one is from the "small kids" class, and all are hopelessly inept at the game at first. But it doesn't take the entire film for change to transpire; soon, Anna and Tom's team has stumbled upon a winning record, which in turn builds pride among the youngsters and their downtrodden community.

New to town, Miss Anna Montgomery (Olivia d'Abo) has to adjust to unusual teaching conditions. Members of the big kids class discuss soccer on The Big Green.

The movie can be commended for establishing the personalities of the team sufficiently and without transparent exposition or a lot of time. Two members of the Big Green have been transported from early '60s Southern California; not literally, but Chauncey Leopardi and Patrick Renna may be best known in that setting for their work in the similar but better baseball comedy The Sandlot. Of the pair, the chubby, freckle-faced, red-headed Renna makes more of an impression here as the team goalie who visualizes approaching shooters as being more terrifying than they really are. He sees them as anything from ninjas and knights to zombies and a group of "Terminators." It's a gag that sort of works, which puts it, along with a few choice Guttenberg mannerisms, as some of the film's most entertaining and memorable fare. Perhaps that explains why Renna was rewarded with prominent placement on the poster/cover art. It also clarifies that there isn't the type of side-splitting humor you might expect at least attempted. While some would consider a comedy which delivers neither quotable lines nor hearty laughs a waste of time, that is not the case here.
If anything, The Big Green's aspiration to less showy humor might extend its life, whether or not it actually provides the "big grins" that the package promises.

Also figuring largely on the team of sixth through eighth graders are Kate (Jessie Robertson), an emotionally defensive girl whose parents have been divorced (making John Terry of "ER", "24", and "Lost" the obligatory deadbeat dad with a shot at redemption); Newt (Bug Hall, in one of his earliest credits) the baby of the bunch; and Juan (Anthony Esquivel, in his only film), a shy Mexican boy whose mother's illegal immigrant status poses the movie's biggest twist and dilemma.

The movie's use of competitive gameplay footage -- set to Randy Edelman's active but standard score -- does not become excessive until the inevitable championship game. This overblown final match takes up nearly a third of the running time and curiously concludes with a penalty shootout (forsaking realism for drama, and miscalculating the latter). The weak finale is a drawback common to the genre and it's slightly forgivable here, since The Big Green square off, of course, with their first and best-defined foe, the Knights, a disciplined team coached by Jay O. Sanders (in a role which requests the actor's usual oppositional arrogance).

Steve Guttenberg portrays Elma's stubbly Sheriff Tom Palmer, better known to the neighborhood boys as "Deputy Dawg." In a role not unlike many others he's had, Jay O. Sanders plays Jay Huffer, the Knights' arrogant coach.

As a whole, The Big Green can't be classified as much more than a harmless and reasonably enjoyable way to spend 100 minutes. Earning just under $18 million in domestic theaters, the movie was not as warmly received as Angels in the Outfield (which shares a writer, producer, composer, and cast member) or any of the three Mighty Ducks films that Disney released the same decade. But, until recently, it had the distinction of being America's highest-grossing soccer film. (It has since been outdone by Bend It Like Beckham and Will Ferrell's Kicking and Screaming.) No sequels were made, nor did The Big Green inspire Disney to pursue many more sports comedies (the Keystone Pictures-produced Air Bud films excluded); instead, the studio has in this decade moved to straight-faced conflict, period atmosphere, and spotty accuracy in a family of "true sports dramas" like Remember the Titans, The Rookie, Miracle, Glory Road and Invincible. These more recent works have been met with more critical acclaim and consistent profits. That's fair enough, as most of them are better than something like Mighty Ducks.

Still, having exploited a triumph in nearly every major American sport, I think the studio is due for something fictional and light-hearted, even if it only ends up being as comfortably mediocre as The Big Green.

Buy The Big Green on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.85:1 Non-anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Stereo (English, French)
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Closed Captioned
Release Date: May 4, 2004
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Suggested Retail Price: $14.99
(Reduced from $19.99)
White Keepcase

VIDEO and AUDIO

Looking over our list of recent live action films, it seems like a bit of a miracle that The Big Green came to DVD in widescreen. Every single other live action film released to theaters in 1995 under the Disney banner (six, in total) has appeared on DVD in a compromised fullscreen transfer. The Big Green arrives in 1.85:1 widescreen, matching the dimensions of its theatrical exhibitions.
But before you go celebrating, do know that the movie has not been enhanced for 16x9 televisions. What in the late '90s was disappointing but commonplace was mind-bafflingly frustrating in the spring of 2004; in fact, Disney was probably the only major studio putting out non-anamorphic discs this recently.

It seems pretty apparent that The Big Green has not made full use of DVD's resolution becomes it comes in a direct port from its laserdisc presentation. Of course, a letterboxed transfer still is vastly preferred to a pan-and-scan job and many Disney fans would be all too happy if DVDs of 'scope films like Tom and Huck, Tall Tale, and Operation Dumbo Drop were merely not enhanced for widescreen sets instead of lopping off 40% of the wide visuals. As a flat widescreen film that has not been as meticulously framed, Big Green doesn't stand to benefit as vastly as those other films in its widescreen presentation, but this is still one to chalk up as a victory in principle. Not a full victory, on account of the bizarre fact that the black bars are encoded onto the picture, but I won't belabor that point as much as others. On a standard 4x3 television, the movie looks quite good, with a mostly clean element and fine colors satisfying more than occasional shimmering or softness disappoint.

Guttenberg and d'Abo make for some swell-looking love interests, but think of how much sweller they'd look in glorious 16x9! It is time for a class celebration! Got cake?

In the sound department, the package claims a Dolby Digital Surround Sound track, but all we really get is two-channel Dolby Stereo. That's kind of ridiculous for a 1995 film, especially when films from Walt's time get treated to 5.1 remixes. While it's obviously a non-issue for those not watching on a home theater, the lack of surround reinforcement is unfortunate. Between Randy Edelman's score and the occasional pre-recorded tune, there is a lot of music and the experience would benefit from it being opened up a bit. The same is true of the soccer action, which could have easily introduced dimensionality without being gimmicky. Alas, crowd noises and directional effects are limited, like everything else, to the front two speakers.

BONUS FEATURES and MENUS

There are no bonus features to be found, unless you count the 85-second promo for modern (well, early 2000s) live action Disney films on DVD which automatically plays at the disc's launch. Otherwise, there's absolutely nothing, which is silly because had this been among Disney's earliest DVD releases it would have at least been guaranteed to provide a trailer.

The menus are about as simple as they come - all screens are static and most feature a simple field and sky background with The Big Green team mascot's Ernie the Goat in front. I would guess altogether, there's a good five or ten minutes of designing work that went into them.

Larry (Patrick Renna) sees assorted visions while tending the goal. The approaching players only see this, however. Go Big Green, go!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

From quirky characters (like an Asian boy who burps the alphabet) to a detestable opposing coach to the scene where the team bonds in the rain, The Big Green includes just about every formula in the book of misfit-kids-come-together-and-win tales. This soccer comedy is not unlike other youth-centric sports films that the '90s gave us so many of: it's easy to criticize and utterly predictable, but fun to watch and hard to dislike. While it certainly doesn't rank among Disney's best, this is a movie which those with a soft spot for films of this kind should gobble up and find time for regular repeat viewings.

That Big Green took over seven years from the launch of DVD to show up on the format has both advantages and disadvantages. On the upside, it's not reformatted for the increasingly unfashionable "fullscreen" ratio like many of the studio's '90s live action works that debuted before it were. On the downside, all the extra time has not gone into making a satisfying DVD; it's ridiculously not 16x9-enhanced, the soundtrack is a skimpy two-channel affair, and don't even think about bonus features (there are none).

That makes the disc easy to pass up if you're one of those who is convinced that Blu-ray will soon take off, receive a glut of catalogue debuts, and correct any DVD misdoings. For the rest of us more realistic about the home video industry, The Big Green is not worth its $14.99 list price, but if you can find it on sale at half-off or less, you're guaranteed to get some enjoyment out of it, at least quite a bit more than, say, a comparatively-priced fast food dinner.

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Related Reviews:
Angels in the Outfield (1994) The Mighty Ducks (1992) Angels in the Infield (2000)
Cool Runnings (1993) Muppet Treasure Island (1996) The Parent Trap (1998)
Pocahontas (1995) Jungle 2 Jungle (1997) Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book (1994)
The Greatest Game Ever Played (2005) Remember the Titans (2000) Glory Road (2006)
Goal! The Dream Begins (2006) The Miracle Match (2005) Get a Clue (2002)
Gus (1976) Blackbeard's Ghost (1968) The World's Greatest Athlete (1973)
Boy Meets World: The Complete Third Season (1995-96) Iron Will (1994) Toy Story (1995)

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Reviewed October 18, 2006.