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1 item from 1997

Film review: The Education of Little Tree

22 December 1997 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

The directorial debut of screenwriter Richard Friedenberg ("A River Runs Through It"), "The Education of Little Tree" is a well-realized Depression-era family film. However, it's a little long and too complex for most children younger than the engaging 8-year-old lead character delightfully played by Joseph Ashton ("The Little Rascals").

A Paramount release with modest theatrical potential, "Little Tree" is earnest about educating audiences, with a tale about a Cherokee boy living with his white grandfather and Indian grandmother and learning about the enormous crimes committed against Native Americans in the not-too-distant past.

But the film is also a fond re-creation of the 1930s Tennessee backwoods lifestyle of Grandpa (James Cromwell) and Grandma (Tantoo Cardinal), who are happy living off the land and keeping up the family business of making whiskey. When orphan Little Tree (Ashton) comes to live in this peaceful environment, he learns about "the way" of nature while making new friends and having adventures.

Around the fireplace one night, medicine man and family friend Willow John (Graham Greene) tells the story of the "Trail of Tears", when the Cherokee people were forced from their lands. Bitter about the past but likening the invasion of the white man to a wave that passes and leaves a few survivors, Willow John relates the somber tale so a young boy can grasp its significance in one of the film's best scenes.

Complications arise when the authorities take Little Tree away to an abominable Indian School. Escaping with the help of Grandpa, Little Tree is spared a miserable fate, but a fresh round of tragedies plays out to make him a survivor with a bright future.

With strong production values, this big little movie enlightens and entertains.


Paramount Pictures

In association with Allied Films/Lightmotive

A Jake Eberts production

A Richard Friedenberg film

Writer-director: Richard Friedenberg

Producer: Jake Eberts

Co-producers: Lenny Young, Louise Gendron

Based on the novel by: Forrest Carter

Director of photography: Anastas Michos

Production designer: Dan Bishop

Costume designer: Renee April

Editor: Wayne Wahrman

Music: Mark Isham



Grandpa: James Cromwell

Grandma: Tantoo Cardinal

Little Tree: Joseph Ashton

Willow John: Graham Greene

Running time -- 115 minutes

MPAA rating: PG


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