Movie - The year is 1935, and young Natty Gann (Salenger) has just learned that her one living parent, her father Sol (Wise) has gone off from their Chicago home to the state of Washington for a job, during the Depression Era. So, Natty takes off and heads west in a quest to find her father, resulting in the journey mentioned in the title. On her quest, Natty comes across all sorts of people, very few of whom are interested in helping her. The Journey of Natty Gann is a subtle movie that is able to capture the feel of the Depression Era. The despair of the time evocatively looms over the entire movie, but equally present is a sense of hope in Natty's journey. It's not a perfect movie, but it's certainly an intelligent and thoughtful one. It's also interesting to contrast movies like Natty Gann and One Magic Christmas from 1985, with the flashy live-action Disney movies today which rely a whole lot less on subtlety and a whole lot more on glitz and style. Natty Gann is both a period piece which captures the spirit of 1930's America and a coming-of-age adventure story for its title character. Whichever angle you appreciate more, it's a film that you are likely to appreciate.
Video - Watching The Journey of Natty Gann on DVD, you feel as if you're only seeing half the picture. And indeed, you are. Since Natty Gann is a 2.35:1 widescreen film, and Disney has released it exclusively in Pan & Scan, the result is a loss of just under 50% of the image. The video quality on this DVD is absolutely horrible. It looks like an old, worn-out videocassette. The picture is extremely soft and grainy, and it feels as if the movie is about twice as old as it really is. Detail is awful, the entire video just feels soft and faded, like a dollar bill having been run in the washing machine. There are digital artifacts and other distracting flaws throughout. There are a number of framing problems that result from the pan & scan and significant image loss. Furthermore, the wide photography of the images in nature that play a large role in the film's journey are rendered completely uneffective. You are constantly aware that the picture is heavily zoomed in and that you are missing so much visual information. It's certainly a shame that the filmmakers spent time and effort into framing Natty Gann meticulously, only to have the movie drastically chopped up to fit the dimensions of a 4 x 3 television set. Had Anchor Bay held onto the DVD release rights to this film that they once had, we would have undoubtedly seen a 2.35:1 widescreen transfer, and there is no way it could look as bad as the pan & scan transfer looks on this DVD.
Audio - Matching the video quality in terms of futility, the audio mix for Natty Gann sounds like an old worn-out videocassette. The track sounds distant and lacks clarity throughout. Just about as disappointing as the video. There are a number of instances where, if you haven't seen the movie before, you'll have to rewind to hear what was said. Either that, or there's the English subtitles which can decode some of the fuzzy dialogue.
Extras - Like the other recent live-action catalogue Disney DVD releases, Natty Gann has nothing in the way of extras. Not an original trailer, no production notes, no making-of features, no cast and crew bios and notes. Absolutely barebones for this disc, which looks like it realistically could have been made in the time it took to convert the laserdisc files to DVD.
Closing Thoughts - This DVD has "rush job" written all over it. Not a single effort was made to present the movie in a decent fashion. The VHS-like quality and shoddy pan & scan transfer is a disgrace to the DVD format and Disney has simply disappointed on all accounts for this title. Diehard Natty Gann fans are the only ones I can see who would consider buying this, and even they might want to re-consider a purchase, based on the awfully lacking DVD presentation and the fact that 45% of the image is cut out. It's appalling that a DVD looking like this makes its way onto the market today.