|Little House on the Prairie|
|Written by Dan Macintosh|
|Tuesday, 28 March 2006|
The premise of “Little House on the Prairie” is built around the trials and tribulations of the Ingalls family, who relocate from Wisconsin to Kansas via covered wagon. It’s a story told from Laura Ingalls’ perspective. Laura is the younger of two daughters in the Ingalls family. Along with her older sister Mary, this nuclear group is rounded out by father Charles, mother Caroline and their bi-eye-colored dog Jack.
The Charles Ingalls character is a skilled trapper, hunter and carpenter, and appears to be quite successful at this story’s start in Pepin, Wisconsin. Even though there’s a scene where one of his customers complains about the quality of a fence he built, the viewer never gets the impression that the Ingalls family was forced to leave town. When Charles sees a note that advertises homesteading in Kansas, he gets the urge to move. Packing up and leaving friends and extended family is the hardest aspect of this life change for the Ingalls family. At one point Caroline’s mother tells her, “I told you not to marry a man with wanderlust.” And this wanderlust drives Charles more than anything else.
Charles is put to the test in many serious instances. These challenges include crossing the frozen Mississippi River and having the ice begin to crack underneath their wagon. Later, a rattlesnake bites one of the Ingalls’ horses so they have to put it out of its misery. On another occasion, their beloved dog almost drowns.
The Ingalls clan is reminded again and again to count their blessings along their journey. They meet a family that is dazed and confused about what to do next after having had their horses stolen in the night. They also pass a spontaneous graveyard, with crosses crudely fashioned out of tree branches, which serves to remind them that not everybody survives the cross-country trek.
Even after they reach their new home, the Ingalls experience hardship. While building their “dream house,” Caroline sprains her leg after a log falls on it. Additionally, Charles is attacked by a wolf and later by a mountain lion, and the family’s house catches on fire.
This story is more than just a tale about hard times, however. For example, there is also a heartwarming scene that details the Ingalls’ first Christmas on the prairie. The girls don’t get a bunch of presents from Santa, like most contemporary American children do, but they’re more than pleased with the personalized wooden figurine carvings their dad gives them.
This scene exemplifies how the Ingalls family is forced by circumstances to appreciate each other’s company. They just don’t interact with too many other people in their new surroundings. They do befriend a “wildcat” from Tennessee named Edwards, however. Played with spunk and humor by Gregory Sporleder, Edwards is a tough on the outside/ tender on the inside character. It may annoy Caroline that Edwards teaches Laura how to spit, but his help in building the family home, along with his dedicated companionship, is invaluable.
Another couple, elderly neighbors Mr. and Mrs. Scott, are not nearly as likeable or as helpful as Edwards. Their last names match their nationality, as each speak with strong Scottish accents. Mr. Scott is fearful and prejudiced about the area’s surrounding Indians, and Mrs. Scott is just plain fearful to the point of panic. This pair may carry a lot of emotional baggage, but they nevertheless always behave neighborly toward the Ingalls family. They’re friends, not foes.
Although it’s hard to get cute-as-a-button Melissa Gilbert out of your mind, Kyle Chavarria nevertheless does a wonderful job with the Laura Ingalls character. There are scenes, such as one where she meets her first Indian, where Chavarria just stands with her mouth wide open in amazement. Such natural physical acting says far more than words ever could. Danielle Churchran’s portrayal of the skittish Mary Ingalls is also excellent. These two young girls have many scenes together, and there is a natural on screen chemistry shared between them. Laura Ingalls is brave, sometimes to a fault. But this bravery also comes in handy whenever Mary needs someone to calm her down.
The most dramatic portions of this two-DVD set involves settler interactions with the Indians. One tribe of Indians sets up camp near the Ingalls homestead, but it’s never clear what their intentions are. Charles is convinced that these are peaceful people, and even gets the opportunity to smoke a peace pipe with one of their leaders, Soldat Du Chene, who also saves his life by shooting an attacking mountain lion. The Scotts, on the other hand, believe that the only good Indian is a dead Indian. They suspect that this clan only means to cause them harm. When these Indians set the woods on fire to drive the settlers out, it’s clear that they won’t leave this region without a fight. Eventually, the U.S. government pays these Indians for the land, thus ending the prairie’s Indian presence.
At one point, the curious Laura asks her parents why American Indians are continually driven west whenever settlers occupy a new land. Her parents don’t have any good answers for her. Although it’s not surprising that a young child would be troubled by this mistreatment of the Indians, these scenes nevertheless smack of overt political correctness, and probably should have been left on the cutting room floor.
It’s also worth noting that this DVD earns its PG rating with a scene where an Indian attacks a settler, sets his house on fire, and drags him kicking and screaming out of his home. Although it has the Disney label on it, this program may be a little too intense for small children.
The sound throughout is fine. Even so, it’s a waste when such crisp and clear audio is applied to John Cameron’s annoying New Age music. More traditional orchestral music would have been far more fitting for this wilderness story setting.
Despite this film’s attempt to get the author’s story right, fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s original work still have good reason to quibble with it. For instance, the Ingalls family also had a third daughter, a baby girl, who has been completed eliminated from this retelling. But if you’re not a Laura Ingalls Wilder purist, and you just enjoy an exciting story that is told well, “Little House on the Prairie” puts a little bit of American history into an undeniably entertaining context.