Toon Talk: Miracle
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Disney Film & Video Reviews by Kirby C. Holt
The late 70’s were a tumultuous time for the United States of America, what with gas shortages, Middle Eastern crises and disco. So it really was something short of a miracle when the U.S. Olympic hockey team, coming off a long losing streak, surprised the world with their upset win over the returning Soviet champions, eventually winning the gold medal at the 1980 Winter Olympics.
To say that this sweet victory sent a wave of patriotism throughout America, just when it needed it the most, is a vast understatement. Their success made a weary nation, coming off a decade fraught with conflict and currently knee-deep in the Carter White House and the Iranian hostage situation, proud to be Americans once more.
Such a story, with its built-in themes of the underdog coming from behind in an ‘only-in-the-movies’ kind of way, was, naturally, ripe for film treatment - in fact, it was filmed once before, as the 1981 TV movie Miracle on Ice (starring Karl Malden, Andrew Stevens and Steve Guttenberg). But it’s not that small screen effort that makes one watching this current film adaptation, simply title Miracle, feel a strong sense of déjà vu: it’s the unmistakable fact that, even with its rousing finale and a solid group of performances, we’ve seen it all in countless sports movies before, from The Pride of the Yankees and Rocky to Remember the Titans and The Rookie.
Kurt Russell, who began his acting career as a juvenile and teen with many Disney roles ranging from Bon Voyage! to the Dexter Riley trilogy (he also voiced the adult Copper in The Fox and the Hound, and was named a Disney Legend in 1998), leads the cast as the gruffly outspoken coach Herb Brooks. Wearing an unflattering ensemble of plaid sport jackets and an unsightly Ted Koppel wig, Russell barks his lines with a determined forcefulness meant to demonstrate how committed his character is to not just merely the game, but more so to beating those dang arrogant Russians. Such single-mindedness, with no shades of doubt in the characterization, makes it difficult to accept these histrionics and to relate to Brooks as a likeable protagonist; obviously his brash methods paid off, as in ‘the ends justified the means’, but the film fails to round out its central character with anything more then this brusque façade. And it may have been true that, in realty, Brooks (who served as a consultant on this film and, tragically, died shortly after filming; the film is dedicated to his memory) had more benevolent motivations beyond reliving past glories, but the script, as written by Eric Guggenheim, simply fails to substantiate that.