Are You a Christian? Disney Has a Horse Movie to Sell You

Having not been invited to check Secretariat out, I can only take its Oscar allies at their word that the film is a high point in the horse-racing genre and as viable an awards-season contender as any this year. That doesn't mean its makers are above pandering condescension.

A report today in THR elaborates on Disney's strategy for pushing Secretariat among the "faith-based" audience that helped make The Blind Side an Oscar-winning $250 million smash last year. It's no coincidence that both films feature an affluent white woman who, against all odds, social order and her own better judgment, crafts a winning athlete -- a winning specimen, really -- from underprivileged raw material. Not that there's anything fundamentally wrong with either football mom Leigh Anne Tuohy or horse breeder Penny Chenery's stories -- anything but. It's just that the implications for their other subjects are more than a little troublesome. "My meeting with the marketing team to EXPLAIN the problem would start thusly," tweeted NPR's Monkey See blog. "Secretariat ... was ... a ... HORSE." The mind reels, the skin crawls, etc.

Disney may or may not have anticipated this (reps aren't talking). But writer-director Randall Wallace most certainly did, deflecting the matter with both demographic brio ("I have high hopes people with middle-American values will enjoy it, and we know from screenings it resonates with progressives who like Penny's independence and strength") and easy-to-Netflix qualifications ("We celebrated the same values in Braveheart and We Were Soldiers, but those movies had an element of loss in them. With this movie, the audience is cheering like it's a rock concert").

Fine. But here's the thing: Beyond Sandra Bullock's admittedly terrific performance, The Blind Side generally sucked. Its success was not a reflection of its quality but rather its word-of-mouth, especially as those "people with middle-American values" got a look and realized they could get behind that sassy, brassy, God-fearing Memphis socialite who implored them to change someone's life for the better. To the extent it inspired, it galvanized viewers to within a pearl-clutching inch of their lives.

Secretariat, on the other hand, does not have the leeway to suck. It's being bred (no pun intended) as an Oscar contender from the start -- which historically doesn't require aesthetic greatness or anything, but does require either critical staying power or some hypnotic individual presence to recommend it. Does this film have that? Seriously, I'm asking. I haven't seen it. (I'd love to check it out; producers Gordon Gray and Mark Ciardi got a lifetime exemption from me after 2004's classic Miracle -- the godawful Game Plan notwithstanding.)

Still, all I care about for now is the campaign, and if we stick strictly to that, we see how patronizing is not the same thing as galvanizing. Pronounced ideological threads (Chenery's husband decries their daughter's "Commie" social interests; inheritance-tax squabbles that "could derail the protagonist's heroic efforts") are not the same as activist humanism. A horse breeder is not an adoptive mother. And -- must I really say it? -- a horse is not a person. He's a winner, he's a legend, he's an inspiration. But he's a horse. Let the audience and the Academy each reward you accordingly, however they see fit. Until then, Disney, let's keep them separate. It's really too early in the season to start resenting each other.


  • Alex C. says:

    In the finish line 'Secretariat' crosses the finish line to a choral rendition of "Oh Happy Day". Plus there's a subservient stereotypical black character who says "Lawdy Lor" all the time and foolish liberal daughters who learn the errors of their ways. The movie is a conservative's dream.

  • Alex C. says:

    Oh, not to mention it stars Fred Thompson as one of the film's central "good guys."

  • stolidog says:

    There must be some woman with a horse parable in the bible somewhere....everything else is in there. Disney just needs to find that and market accordingly.

  • HM says:

    Who cares if they market to christians? They want to make money. What do you want them to market to horses?

  • happygolucky says:

    This is very disturbing news that Movieline did not receive an invitation. Sure as Ester was the winner of a beauty contest, I will think twice about taking my little Buddhists to see this production of the purification of the gambling industry.

  • Bert says:

    A very interesting read, you make some very interestingpoints. I look forward to reading your next post.

  • Terrance says:

    It's remarkable in support of me to have a website, which is useful in favor of my experience. thanks admin