'Wild Hearts' ignores animal abuse issue

May 24, 1991|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

As the movie title says, "Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken," but a horse's legs can, particularly when the animal is forced to leap off a 40-foot tower into a pool of water for the amusement of morons. And that's the problem with this otherwise inoffensive and Simon-simple Disney film

The movie seems to be an invitation to invest emotionally in animal abuse and, ridiculously, it never faces this charge squarely. Instead, it simply brushes it aside with a single line of dialogue: "Oh, the horses never get hurt." Possibly. On the other hand, the dives sure don't do them any good, either.

I think an adult viewer and even many of the prepubescent girls for whom the movie was evidently made will feel queasy over the spectacle of horse-diving, which passed for entertainment in the '30s and '40s. And clearly even the filmmakers felt queasy about it: The Disney special effects technicians appear to have finessed the process, and I don't think any horses went airborne during the filming.

The film is a once-over-lightly bio of Sonora Webster Carver, a resilient, horse-loving young woman who spent 11 years at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City (late '30s through early '50s) leaping aboard a galloping stallion just before it plunged off the tower into an 11-foot pool of water. To make matters more interesting, Carver lost her sight early in her career yet continued to make the leaps.

It's meant as a celebration of her spunk, and lord, yes, the child had spunk, especially as played by an ingratiatingly spunky actress named Gabrielle Anwar who gives as good as she gets. Anwar qualifies as a major find: One of those captivating girl-women who can play any role in the age range of 12 to 25, and can look as scruffy as an urchin or as drop-dead beautiful as a cover girl.

But beyond Anwar, the movie thins out quickly. It certainly romanticizes what must have been the the squalid carny-culture of that earlier time. The director, Steve Miner, seems to think that the carnivals of the South in the '30s were Disneyland. Almost certainly, they were theme parks called Scuzzland and Geek City

a What's next for Disney -- a warm, uplifting family drama about a colorful cock-fighting clan?

'Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken'

Starring Gabrielle Anwar and Cliff Robertson.

Directed by Steve Miner.

Released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Rated G.


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