”If you want something bad enough, anything’s possible,” says the plucky Sonora Webster (Gabrielle Anwar) in this inspiring, based-on-fact Depression-era story about a girl who runs away from home to join a carnival act in Wild Hearts Can’t be Broken.
Determined to become a ”diving-horse girl” — someone who straddles a horse that leaps from a 40-foot platform into a pool — she tracks down master showman Doc Carver (a leathery Cliff Robertson) and to his annoyance sticks around. She’s too young to be a glamorous show girl, but Doc lets her care for the horses and shovel manure. ”Why, manure’s my speciality!” Sonora says brightly. ”I can believe that,” says a rueful Doc.
Sonora’s persistence impresses Doc and his obdurate son, Al (Michael Schoeffling). When Doc’s regular diving girl is injured, Sonora gets her big break. Though Robertson plays the curmudgeonly Doc with a dour kindness that makes him sympathetic, there’s no getting around the distraction of his truly terrible wig and makeup.
There’s a splashy suspensefulness inherent in Sonora’s dives (though production notes mention that the horses really jumped from only about 10 feet), especially when one of the dives results in her having to learn to live with a significant handicap. Equally powerful is the tension between Doc and his son as they resolve their strained relationship and in the broken, then sweetly restored, romance between Sonora and Al.
It’s heartening to see a movie with a spirited heroine who relies on her own resources to triumph over difficulty. The message that girls and women can be adventurous and boys and men can be supportive celebrates both sexes. That’s really just horse sense, but it’s a rare kids’ movie that dares to convey it. A-