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The Journey of Natty Gann (1985)

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In the 1930s, a tomboyish girl runs away from her guardian to join her single father who is 2,000 miles away, because there was work there.


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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 1 win & 2 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Barry Miller ...
Farm Woman
Bruce M. Fischer ...
Charlie Linfield
Logging Boss
Jack Rader ...
Employment Agent
Matthew Faison ...
Jordan Pratt ...
Zachary Ansley ...
Campbell Lane ...
Chicago Moderator
Max Trumpower ...
Chicago Worker


Natty Gann (played by Meredith Salenger) is a twelve year old Depression era girl whose single-parent father leaves her behind in Chicago while he goes to Washington State to look for work in the timber industry. Natty runs away from the guardian she was left with to follow Dad. She befriends and is befriended by a wolf that has been abused in dog fights, hops a freight train west, and is presumed dead when her wallet is found after the train crashes. Dad gets bitter and endangers himself in his new job. Meanwhile Natty has a series of adventures and mis- adventures in various farmhouses, police stations, hobo camps, reform schools, and boxcars. Written by Anonymous

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Her name is Natty Gann. Two thousand miles of danger separate her from her father. Only love, hope and courage can help her find him. See more »


Family | Adventure


PG | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:



Official Sites:



Release Date:

27 September 1985 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Natty Gann  »

Box Office


$2,135,577 (USA)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(as Dolby Stereo®)


| (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Only two steam locomotives were used in the filming of this movie. Both steam locomotives are owned by the Province of British Columbia. The first engine which appears in most of the scenes is ex CP #3716. It had its number changed in a few scenes to give the illusion of more locomotives. It is now operational at the Kettle Valley Steam Railway in Summerland, BC. The other steam locomotive is ex MB #1077 which is now operational at Fort Steele Heritage Town near Cranbrook, BC. #1077 also appeared in Shanghai Noon starring Jackie Chan. Both #3716 and #1077 also appeared together in the movie The Grey Fox about gentleman train robber Bill Miner. See more »


The steam locomotives seen in the film have distinctly Canadian vestibule-style cabs. See more »


[Gann hangs up the phone after speaking with Connie and a man's voice is heard while the camera continues to focus on Gann]
Logging Boss: What's the matter, Gann?
Sol Gann: They found my kid's wallet buried under a train in Colorado.
Logging Boss: Ah, no.
Sol Gann: [deadpan] What the hell was she doing in Colorado?
See more »


Referenced in Starlight Hotel (1987) See more »

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User Reviews

NATTY GANN : Solid Family-Film That Embraces It's Dark Qualities...
10 March 2006 | by (United States) – See all my reviews


This was in the back of my video cabinet and I haven't watched it since I was a child. NATTY GANN is a rather unknown Disney release from 1985 that takes places in the '30's. Natty Gann is a young girl living with just her father in a bleak time. She is rough around the edges and has clearly built up a crocodile skin due to the life she has led. However, at her core, she truly loves her father.

So when he is forced to leave her at a moment's notice to travel to Washington (the only place he can find work) Natty is left in the care of a bitter Landlord. It doesn't take long for Natty, played by Meredith Salenger, to runaway in an attempt to travel the 2,000 miles to be with her father again.

On her journey, Natty meets all kinds of people who are suffering due to the nation's economic situation. One thing she witnesses is a dogfight where one of the dog's is a rather wild wolf. Natty reaches out for the wolf though and eventually manages to establish a bond with the wild animal. Together, they continue to travel towards her Washington State in pursuit of Natty's father.

As the plot description above makes clear, the framework of this film is not horribly unique or important. However, what does give the film some extra quality is the approach in which the material is taken on.

This film is very much in the same vein as another under-appreciatted Disney classic, RETURN TO OZ. This is a very dark family film that lacks all of the standard, corny Disney clichés (aside from the animal friend, but here he doesn't talk... and he isn't particularly nice at first).

THE JOURNEY OF NATTY GANN portrays the depression-era and it's effects on the poor very honestly. We see Natty eating out of garbage pales and sleeping in filth. We see the type of work her father is forced to take on. And we see the bitterness and resentment Natty feels towards her situation.

She is not your typical "hopelessly-optimistic" Disney heroine. She gets angry, she defends herself, and she doesn't make excuses. She starts fight, even smokes what appears to be weed in the opening scene (this was something I certainly didn't notice as a child). However, the role of Natty is always grounded by an appealing and fully realized performance from the young Meredith Salenger. She hasn't found much success in film following this movie, but it is definitely one of the best child performances of the 80's.

Now aside from the good qualities of the film, THE JOURNEY OF NATTY GANN moves a little too slow for me to really love it. Despite the many Disney clichés it avoids, it's still always obvious Natty will find her father and all will be happy. So the fact that it takes 105 minutes to do so is a bit much. And there is a supporting role / love interest played by John Cusack who is essentially useless to the plot.

But Disney deserves some credit for boldly taking family films to a darker, more artistically developed place in 1985 (both RETURN TO OZ and NATTY GANN were released in that year). There haven't been children's films that really embrace the darker side of things like these 2 films do since '85... and these under-viewed films deserve a little more credit and public acknowledgment for looking outside of the lines in a genre that is too often trapped within the lines.

... B- ...

11 of 13 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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