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Tex - Disney DVD Review

Tex

Theatrical Release: July 30, 1982 / Running Time: 103 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Tim Hunter

Cast: Matt Dillon (Tex McCormick), Jim Metzler (Mason McCormick), Meg Tilly (Jamie Collins), Bill McKinney (Pop McCormick), Francis Lee McCain (Mrs. Johnson), Ben Johnson (Cole Collins), Phil Brock (Lem Peters), Emilio Estevez (Johnny Collins), Jack Thibeau (Coach Jackson), Zeljko Ivanek (Hitchhiker), Pamela Ludwig (Connie)


The opening scene of Tex shows the film's protagonist, 15-year-old Tex McCormick (Matt Dillon), having a grand time with his horse Rowdy. But unlike the countless Disney productions that have focused on a strong connection between boy and animal, Tex's interest clearly lies with the human.

That human is an ordinary teenager who is trying to cope with the unusually difficult hand he is dealt. Within days, that horse that seemed to so strongly have the boy's attention and care, has to be sold. This is the latest in a line of hardships thrown Tex's way.

Tex's mother died when he was a child, and his father has been away for over a year, supposedly travelling with the rodeo and not making any effort to stay in contact. Which leaves Tex and his 18-year-old brother Mason (Jim Metzler) on their own, struggling to make ends meet in their little farm town of Bixby, Oklahoma.

Fifteen-year-old Tex and his older brother Mason are living on their own in Bixby, Oklahoma. Tex shares a moment with Rowdy.

Acting as Tex's father is no easy task for Mason, whose success in basketball might provide a way out of Oklahoma. His dream of getting a sports scholarship to Indiana University seems to be on hold as long as Pop's away and he has to look after his younger brother.

The story of Tex and the people around him is not extraordinary. That route, which the majority of films take, is not necessary to engage viewers and win their approval. Whether it is depicting Tex and Mason's unorthodox home life or a vuiew of the high school scene where Tex pulls off some pranks, the film never loses its audience, even if it doesn't seek to constantly advance things and point to a great convenient wrap-up. Instead, Tex allows one to bask in the rich emotions and characters.

Those characters include Tex's motorcycle-riding best friend Johnny Collins (Emilio Estevez), and Johnny's sister Jamie (Meg Tilly), who intrigues Tex with her sarcasm and wit. Their father (Ben Johnson), a much-feared man they all call Cole, acts as polar opposite to Tex's absentee Pop; he rides his children and heartily disapproves of a number of things. Then there's Lem Peters (Phil Brock), a friend of Tex and Mason who seems to have things all worked out, but in addition to a newborn son, he also has a sidejob of peddling speed.

In high school, Johnny Collins and Tex are the mischievous kids in back. Johnny's sister Jamie tries to talk some sense to Tex.

While the screenplay feels a bit episodic, Tex does not need to rely heavily on plot advances, since it works extremely well as a character study. This entirely involving drama makes you feel as if these are real kids, not characters. The occassionally unpolished acting supports that, and contributes to the film's strong sense of believability and integrity.

Matt Dillon stars as Tex, in the first of three S.E. Hinton adaptations he would headline, the other two directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Dillon's natural performance provides a center for the film, and he is matched perfectly by Jim Metzler, who merited a Golden Globe supporting actor nomination with his turn as the caring, but discontent older brother. Meg Tilly and Emilio Estevez (in his feature film debut) bring interest and depth to the more affluent Collins siblings.

Mason takes a break from balling to stand up to Clem Collins. Tex and his bro.

Tex is adapted from the book by S.E. Hinton. In 1967, at the age of nineteen, Hinton had The Outsiders become her first published work, establishing the author as a unique voice in young adult fiction. The material in Hinton's bestselling writing, including Tex, might seem like an odd selection for a studio that had just released Herbie Goes Bananas. But in the early 1980s, Disney was trying to find a new niche, and this was one of several projects (albeit, probably the most freewheeling) made to reconnect with audiences that had grown tired of formula wacky comedies.

Sex and drugs are subjects that had never come up in Disney films, and certainly not with the frankness here. Whether that's how it should or should not be, Tex is so good that you feel that Disney would have missed out on something special had they not attempted to make this one. Nonetheless, the type of realistic edge that marks Tex was fairly short-lived; when Disney launched their Touchstone branch in 1984, there would still be some less-than-cheery Disney films, but more mature subject matter would almost always be relegated to the Touchstone domain.

Tex is not the brightest kid, but the film certainly succeeds in getting you to empathize with him. His good-natured spirit and humanity carry both he and you through the rough situations that the film explores in a solemn and often heartbreaking fashion. S.E. Hinton's story, faithfully brought to the screen by co-writer/director Tim Hunter, resonates with adolescents and those who survived this rocky time of growing up. This earnest, sensible drama essentially and effectively marries Disney with contemporary teenage angst, and it does not shy from dealing with real issues. Not with preaching or phoniness, but with poignancy and genuiness, Tex allows for a triumph of the human spirit.

Buy Tex from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital Mono (English, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, French
Closed Captioned
Release Date: September 7, 2004
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
Black Keepcase

VIDEO and AUDIO

Add Tex to the growing number of recently-released catalogue DVDs that Disney has done right. Presented in its 1.85:1 original aspect ratio and enhanced for 16x9 televisions, Tex showcases a strong transfer. While as usual, dirt and grain muddle the optical opening credits shots, the print looks impressively clean the rest of the time. For a low-budget drama made over twenty years ago and released without fanfare, I am quite pleasantly surprised by how good the picture quality on Tex is.

The Dolby Mono track here shows that just because audio is limited to one channel doesn't mean it has to be a bland presentation. It's a fine sound mix, and Pino Donaggio's appropriate score is nicely conveyed. Dialogue sounds natural and crisp, though there were a number of occassions where it was not easy to decipher. Sound effects were potent, and overall, I was also pleased with the audio aspect of the feature presentation.

Look out, it's Emilioooo! Get off the road! That includes you two.

EXTRAS

All there is besides the movie is the widely seen 90-second preview for recent live action Disney films on DVD and video. I don't think people buying Tex will be in a hurry to pick up Snow Dogs and The Lizzie McGuire Movie, but who knows?

The 16x9 still menus prominently feature star Matt Dillon, and soothing bluegrassy excerpts from Pino Donaggio's pensive score.

Matt Dillon makes quite the impression as Tex. When Tex goes for a frustrated strut, Johnny and Jamie aren't far behind.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Tex strays about as far from the squeaky clean fun that marks most Disney films and turns away more cynical viewers. It is a very good drama, and though more than twenty years have passed since it was made, I think the film will still speak to teenagers and adults today, even in very different times and circumstances. Disney's DVD release gets no points for bonus material, but lands high marks on surprisingly potent video and audio quality.

More on the DVD

The Book: Tex by S.E. Hinton

Related Reviews
New to Disney DVD
Never Cry Wolf (1983) | One Magic Christmas (1985) | The Last Flight of Noah's Ark (1980)

Also Starring Emilio Estevez:
The Mighty Ducks (1992)

Reviewed September 11, 2004.

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