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Hidalgo (PG-13) (2004)

Touchstone Pictures

Official Site

Director: Joe Johnston

Producer: Casey Silver

Written by: John Fusco

Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Zuleikha Robinson, Omar Sharif, Louise Lombard, Adam Alexi-Malle, Said Taghmaoui, Silas Carson


Touchstone Pictures has done an odd thing with the film Hidalgo: It’s proven that even formulas can be fun. Despite its cookie-cutter set-up and sometimes trite dialogue (it’s pretty much The Mighty Ducks with a couple of sand dunes), the film is still so enjoyable that even I—the poorest of the poor—wouldn’t mind digging into my wallet to see it. Hidalgo is based on the life of Frank T. Hopkins (Mortensen), allegedly the greatest endurance rider in the world. Hopkins was reputed to have won more than 400 long-distance races during his life, including a 3,000-mile trek across the Arabian Desert. In Touchstone’s version of that legendary race, here called the “Ocean of Fire,” Hopkins enters both to reclaim his former glory and to flee from his past. Oh yeah, and because there’s this petty little dispute over who really owns the greatest long-distance horse in the world. Sheikh Riyadh (Sharif) doesn’t take too kindly to Hopkins claiming the title for his horse Hidalgo and thus challenges him in the form of the ominous race. Sharing issues, much?

In the “Ocean of Fire,” Hopkins and his mixed-blooded mustang compete against Arabia’s finest purebreds for a substantial money prize. We soon learn that many other side-wagers have been proposed as well, adding further incentive for victory. Lady Anne Davenport (Lombard) stands to gain breeding rights to the Sheikh’s racing stallion while Prince Bin Al Reeh (Taghmaoui) hopes to win breeding rights to the Sheikh’s daughter. Of course, just-as-good-as-any-man Princess Jazira (Robinson) has her own plans, which apparently include early Middle Eastern feminism (jumping straight to the top, by the way, on my Greatest Oxymorons list). Furthermore (cuz what’s just one more little point of contention?), Sheikh Riyadh’s greedy nephew Katib (Carson) also expects full access to the family’s sacred horse bloodlines despite being an out-and-out thief. Sheesh, talk about a sense of entitlement—my parents got me a goldfish when I asked for a pony, and I was grateful for that!

Being a sucker for period pieces, I’ve got to give props to all the artistic costume and design sets. Despite its Disney roots, Hidalgo comes off much more Lawrence Of Arabia than Aladdin, juxtaposing the delicate against the deadly in its presentation of the Arabian Desert. This duality of nature also appears within the movie’s characters, who constantly waver between the two pillars of duty and desire. It really is the perfect film to write a thesis on—so many metaphors! Don’t get too caught up in the symbolism though, or you might end up a dusty English major like myself. Instead, focus on Hidalgo’s enjoyability-factor, which ranks right below Finding Nemo and right above 50 First Dates. It’s the perfect outlet for that Spring Break boredom or spending time with the fam—or curing the boredom caused by spending time with the fam.

This is the first movie I’ve seen in a while that was actually fun to watch rather than just fun to belittle. While there were definitely a few lines that grated on my ears—at one point Jazira says sadly, “Why do I feel you are the only one who sees me?” and Hopkins replies, “Well any man can see that you’re beautiful”—the overall package was quite two-thumbs-up. One piece of advice, though: Go with the small beverage.

— Emily Younger

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