An Introduction to the Power of Marketing to Kids
This is really just the three episodes of the Disney TV show patched together for a theatrical release. Now, my mother actually argued with me when I bought it; she insists that there were more than three episodes, because she remembers that it was huge. And indeed it was, but leaving aside that, as I said, I own the series on DVD, Walt is famously quoted as having said that, had he known how popular the thing would have been, he wouldn't have killed off his main character in three episodes. Which, you know, fair point for Walt. The success of the show, which was three episodes of [i]Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color[/i], caught everyone by surprise and presumably led to Fess Parker's later casting as Daniel Boone. I've only seen an episode or two of that, but it was obviously written in the hopes of cashing in on the success of the fictionalized life of another figure of American folklore.
So it turns out that Davy Crockett (Parker) was born on a mountaintop in Tennessee. (Sing along, if you know the words--and who doesn't know the words?) The story picks up considerably later than that, though. Specifically, while Davy and his best friend, George Russel (Buddy Ebsen), are fighting in the Creek Indian Wars. Andrew Jackson (Basil Ruysdael) dinks around, and Davy saves his butt. Then, Davy went off to Congress and served a spell. There, he runs afoul of Andrew Jackson some more. His wife, Polly (Helene Stanley), died while he was off fighting the Creeks, so the movie doesn't much need to talk about her. It can focus instead on missing most of what caused the conflict between the US and the Creeks, then Davy Crockett and Andrew Jackson. And because of that, we don't really understand why Davy's constituents vote him out--and we don't get his famous line about how, if they do so, they can go to Hell and he will go to Texas. But he does, indeed, go to Texas, and we all know what happened there.
Actually, I read a book not all that long ago about the historical figure of David Crockett, and while Fess Parker wasn't much like him, neither was the character who appeared in David Crockett's autobiography. This version of the figure gets called racist, and of course it is at least somewhat. However, it's nothing compared to the racism we saw in the actual man's life. At least this Davy has a certain amount of respect for the Creeks; he doesn't ever seem to kill anyone out of any real personal animosity. And while Andrew Jackson is incompetent, he isn't a vicious, genocidal thug. Heck, it even permits an Indian to be among those nobly killed at the Alamo, and if it doesn't paint the Mexicans in too great a light, well, you kind of can't when it's a war against them which killed your hero. And while the movie doesn't go much into exactly why the Texians were seceding from Mexico, it's true that the historical David Crockett didn't care much about the slavery issue, either.
Oh, I'm not sure how well this ages for a modern audience, but I don't think it deserves some of the criticism it gets. For one thing, you have to remember that this was made for TV initially. It was aired in theatres, but it was aired in theatres as part of Walt's desperate attempt to cash in on the fad he had so obviously failed to anticipate. Stores couldn't keep coonskin caps in stock, after all. "The Ballad of Davy Crockett" was top of the charts. (Losing its place to "Unchained Melody.") And if you ever get the chance, listen to the cover done perhaps fifteen years ago by Tim Curry. It is almost impossible to review this as a movie, because it is such a cultural phenomenon that it's like trying to review [i]How Green Was My Valley[/i] without discussing [i]Citizen Kane[/i]. You cannot separate the two, much though you may wish to and hard as you may try. Even I, born so long after the days when every little boy was dressed up as a cowboy, know that what I was watching had shaped my mother's generation.
To be perfectly honest, I fell in love with Davy Crockett when I was a child. The Disney Channel used to play the episodes, and the pieced-together movies (the popularity of the show also caused Walt to create a prequel, [i]Davy Crockett and the River Pirates[/i]), all the time when I was little, and I looked forward to them with delight every time the ads for them played. This has since ebbed, though my fondness remains strong. The Davy Crockett in this is a simple, goodhearted man, and if as a child I was unbothered by how little it bothered me that he abandoned his wife and she died alone, well, as an adult I assume he's in love with Georgie and just can't admit it because it's the 1840s. No, he's not as interesting as the historical figure, but it's still not surprising to me that he caught the attention of all those little kids. My own mother, who would have been eleven at the time, was more into [i]Zorro[/i], however.