FOR THE PAST few years, it looked as if Walt Disney Productions had lost its way Apparently not content with the sort of films that entertained generations, of moviegoers. Disney sought to widen its audience appeal, as if audiences could be larger than those that appreciate Disney's Peter Pun of Dumbo As a result, the studio presented the likes of Trol, an elephant of a different, less charming sort With Tex. Disney happily regains its proper course, offering a movie that, like a black hole but unlike Disney's The Black Hole draws an audience completely into its environment. An examination of life in a small, southern town. Tex succeeds because its style remains understated throughout, allowing the audience to understand its larger themes of love responsibility and commitment as gradually and as slowly as do the film's characters.
Based on S E Hinton's novel for children and teens, the movie chronicles Tex McCormick's (Matt Dillion) coming of age. But unlike the plot in Dillion's Little Darlings coming of age in Bixby. Oklahoma doesn't involve a virgin's race to promiscuity. Instead, it deals with the education of a fifteen-year-old's sentiments as Tex reconciles his idealized happiness with his seemingly stagnant and often trying life.
Tex, whose Mother died when he was three, lives with his eighteen-year-old brother. Mason (Jim Matzler). Their ne'er-do-well father follows the radio cirucit and offers neither financial nor emotional support. When the film begins. Pops McCormick (Bill McKinney) hasn't been heard from in over five months. Tex's best friend Johnny Coles (Emulo Eztevez) lives a far different life. The son of a wealthy man, Johnny own a motorcycle, on which he drives Johnny one day as they walk into class "She must be a pain at home."
But Tex falls for James Coles (Meg Tilly) nevertheless. Their growing relationship introduces problems an innocent Tex either always overlooked in his friendship with Johnny or never realized. Because of her money. Jamie like her brother is a "goer" as a carnival fortune-teller first tells Tex.
Director Tim Hunter handles this theme subtlely Tex the "stayer" has a "goer" closer to home in Mason, who hopes to win a basketball scholarship to Indiana State University Mason explains his reasons to Tax simply. "Number one, it's the best team in its league, and number two, it's not in Oklahoma." Because Tex's surprise at his brother's dissatisfaction borders on confusion, if underscores Tex's innocence he only wants others to feel as content as he does "Don't worry," he tells Mason as their funds begin to run down. "Pop's coming back" But their father eventual return proves not a panacca but rather a prelude to an unwanted realization about the boys mother. This in turn precipitates Tex's painful reevaluation of his dreams.
Dillon's performance stands at the movie's center and it surpasses anything he's ever done. In Little Darlings and My Bodyguard, he ably performed what he was asked He just wasn't asked much One film required him to be a cocky bully and the other a cocky reducer Dillion here avoids easy characterization. Tex isn't as academically oriented as some. After he hands in his second successive book report on something called Smokey the Cowhorse, his teacher suggests that guy wrote another book?" he asks. "Yes, just look in the library," she says. As Dillion's eyes widen, he slumps in his chair and says, with breathless surprise. "Oh, wow,"
YET TEX ISN'T stupid. Even when his life revolves around his favorite horse, even when he lives one ride at a time. Tex's surface optimism and case betray an underside of uncertainly and doubt. Throughout the film. Dillion speaks with a slight and seemingly natural drawl, his lines increase the film's realism. When his horse fearfully jumps away from a log. Tex says, "You've got some imagination in you for a horse." The "for a horse" seems superfluous, since Tex takes his Rowdie about as seriously as he does anything or anyone else.
Tex's simple manner of speech adequately and uniquely introduces a sense of helplessness. He remembers his parents last fight after which his mother stood outside in the cold for two hours. "I wanted to make them stop," he begins, "I wanted to go outside and get her, but I couldn't reach the door knob." When an adolescent's earliest memory and Dillion's sympathetic demeanor suggest such despair and evoke such pathos, it becomes difficult to accept his outward show of confidence.
But while Tex undoubtedly moves the audience--a braw I between Tex and Mason becomes painful to watch because they both are right--the film never becomes mawkish. Much of the credit for this goes to Hinton. Hunter and Charlie Hass who adapted the novel They pepper Tex with homespun locutions. "I'don't like all that femalism stuff," one soon-to-be says. "You men he got an entire woman pregnant?" another asks later. More important, though, and more interestingly, much of the screenplay's success results from lines that are never spoken. Many people get into fights in Tex, but no one ever says. "I'm sorry," as if a simple apology could erase heartfelt disagreements that prosent no easy resolutions. Instead the characters learn to view difficult situations through the eyes of others and then accept others' weaknesses.
In a similar manner, when Tex returns homes late and drunk after a party. Mason doesn't say "Where were you? I was worried" or "I waited up for you." He just gets up, turns off the light, walks into his room, changes and goes to bed. The brothers relationship is so well established by this time that Mason's concern seems a given. It comes as no surprise when he soon thereafter goes into Tex's room seems his brother sprawled on his bed, and removes Tex's boots Touches like these quietly make life in Bixby seem not altogether unpromising.
Hunter films the interior of the boys' small, off-white house in an unaggressive manner, directing his camera assymetrically. He thus includes several open and half-open doors in his line of view. Hunter's shots evoke a sense of tranquility and, paradoxically, restlessness. The open doors offer views of Oklahoma's fields, land scapes that in turn offer hope to Bixby residents, some who wish only to ride through them and others who wish to ride beyond them.
The film contains some problems. Several revelations arrive completely unexpected, other scenes seem unnecessarily melodramatic if not unnecessary altogether. And Estevez's Johnny Coles remains a flat character throughout. But Metzler's Mason and Dillion's Tex carry a film greatly helped by a wonderful screenplay.
Before Tex began, the theater showed a preview for Disney's Fantasia, which, as the voice-over explained, has ben completely rerecorded in digital stereo. While honoring its remarkable past achievements, Disney now presents a film that deals with contemporary and identifiable subjects in a similarly engaging and warm manner. A few, however, may still argue that Dumbo's cuter than Dillon.