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The Legend of Black Thunder Mountain/Legend of Cougar Canyon (1979/1976) – DVD Review

The Legend of Black Thunder Mountain/The Legend of Cougar Canyon DVD

Film: /

Written by: James Flocker
Narrated by: Rex Alan
Starring: Vance Cleveland

Released by: Good Times
Region: 1
Rating: G
Anamorphic: No, appears in 1.33:1 format.

My Advice: Black Thunder: Kill me now. Cougar Canyon: Eh.

This disc contains two complete movies, meant for wholesome family entertainment. I will, therefore, discuss each movie briefly in turn, and then the disc as a whole.

The Legend of Black Thunder Mountain tells the heartwarming tale of two pure-hearted cherubs who, separated from their wagon train, make friends with a wild bear, defeat some evil and “charmingly inept” crooks, and along the way manage to also thaw the reserve of a crotchety old mountain man–all with a minimum of dialogue and character development. If you think all of this sounds engineered to drive Gen X-ers into murderous rages…then you’re right.

[ad#longpost]The plot of this film is rather banal and dull. While the occasional animal actors spice things up a bit, their interaction with the humans is so hopelessly contrived and fraught with nothing resembling drama that it’s really quite irritating. Animal activists will probably dislike how anthropomorphized and basically silly the animals are, but human activists should feel the same way about how the children are asked to behave–overly sentimental and syrupy. The actors in general are as competent as we could expect them to be, even given the fact that little is asked of them, but their roles are just so hackneyed and unfunny that there’s little they can do. Even the amazing sweeping vistas can’t quite salvage this one.

On the other paw, Legend of Cougar Canyon, while not exactly an entertaining film per se, still makes a decent documentary about the life of the cougar and the wildlife of the Southwest. It ostensibly tells the story of a young Navajo boy, Steve, taking a walk with a Caucasian friend, giving the narrator plenty of opportunities to talk about the culture and wildlife of the area. Soon, one of Steve’s herd wanders off, and the boys are tasked to recover their charge before the cougar finds him.

Again, the acting isn’t much to write home about, but since this movie is mostly narration, that’s less of an issue. The “plot” with Steve and his friend Walter is a relatively minor part of this film, as most of the bulk of the movie is shots of this or that natural feature. Be warned that this movie was written before the real onslaught of political correctness, and the narrator uses words like “Indian” and “red man.” The details about the Navajo culture, however, are interesting and educational, without being too pedantic.

Legend of Cougar Canyon

The disc, to keep costs low, has no special features or inserts, but having two films on one disc is a decent bonus. The film stock does not look to have been updated or improved from the original. There is considerable fading and crackling, but not really enough to keep you from being able to watch the film. Cougar Canyon is a bit worse than Thunder Mountain, but both films show signs of age and visual wear. The audio on both films is decent enough, but a bit muted. You won’t lose any dialogue or music, but since both movies were filmed with some segments of silence, the slight buzzing that comes and goes can get old.

If you’re looking for a bit of reprieve from painfully self-aware modern cinema, then you might be tempted to pick this one up. If you do, skip the first feature and concentrate only on the wildlife show that is the second film, Cougar Canyon. Children will appreciate the animals in both films, as well as the feel-good messages.

Adults will appreciate the lack of nudity, offensive language, and violence (toward humans), but will probably want a higher level of storytelling and craft in things they show their children or watch for themselves. We don’t, after all, want children to grow up thinking that all criminals are helpless, all mountain men are safe, or that bears live to save human children from themselves. Fans of Navajo culture or Monument Valley in general will appreciate at least Cougar Canyon for its scenery and educational value.

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