A scenic tale of pioneer days, the family feature WALKING THUNDER blazes few fresh trails.
In the present, a boy sulks because his parents, the McKays, leave him with his grandmother during a trip away. But the wise old lady has the kid read the journal of his ancestor, Jacob McKay (David Tom), 14 years old in 1850 and unwillingly uprooted from his New Hampshire home and dragged west
with the rest of the family by father John (John Denver), a former shipbuilder who imagines prosperity in the California goldfields. Oncoming winter and the pregnancy of Mrs. McKay (Klara Irene Miracle) strands the family in the mountains en route--perhaps for good when a legendary grizzly bear,
named Walking Thunder by the Indians, attacks and disables their wagon. Help comes to the McKays via Abner Murdock (James Read) a friendly mountain man, and Dark Wind (Chief Ted Thin Elk), an old Sioux medicine man tragically linked to Walking Thunder; his son mistakenly killed the bear's mate, so
W.T. killed the brave in retaliation, and now the old man and the bear commune regularly amidst the trees. Among the various dangers in the territory is Ansel Richter (Christopher Neame) and his renegade partners, determined to rob the McKays and slaughter Walking Thunder for his valuable pelt.
Again and again, Abner and the McKays beat off the marauders, John proving, surprisingly, that he can fight. Finally, with Dark Wind shot and Jacob unable to use a gun on Richter, things look hopeless--until the avenging Walking Thunder comes to the rescue and crashes down upon the villain. The
journal concludes with a legend that Dark Wind and Walking Thunder recovered from their wounds and wandered the mountains doing good deeds for decades afterwards.
There are times when WALKING THUNDER resembles nothing so much as a movie version of the popular educational computer game "The Oregon Trail," as Jacob McKay, surrogate for the (presumably juvenile) viewer, learns through experience how to best feed, provision, and defend a family in the untamed
wilderness. But the three dumb bad guys are more like something out of a cheap cartoon, raiding the McKays with the tiresome regularity of Wile E. Coyote after the Roadrunner, clearly a convenience for instances in which the writers couldn't think up an interesting crisis to send the characters'
way. Animal actor Bart the Bear is more compelling as the truly fearsome beast who, for Dark Wind, embodies the unsentimental spirit of nature (though, as with most movie treatments of the topic, WALKING THUNDER's greeting-card version of native American mysticism verges on the cloying and
condescending). Singer-actor John Denver is also quite well cast as the tenderfoot dad out of his element. WALKING THUNDER was shot in co-writer/director Craig Clyde's home base of Utah and completed in 1993, but not until several years later did it emerge on home video, as a melancholy footnote
for two of its performers. John Denver had perished in a 1997 crash of a plane he was piloting over Monterey. Veteran actor Brian Keith, who narrates as the voice of the mature Jacob McKay, also died that same year, a suicide. (Violence.)
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- Released: 1997
- Rating: PG
- Review: A scenic tale of pioneer days, the family feature WALKING THUNDER blazes few fresh trails. In the present, a boy sulks because his parents, the McKays, leave him with his grandmother during a trip away. But the wise old lady has the kid read the journal o… (more)