In "The Big Green," a new teacher from England (Olivia d'Abo) teaches soccer to a ragtag class of bored misfits in a small Texas town that rallies around them as they face the snotty, fascist league champions. (Rated PG)
They've seen the hockey version of this increasingly popular moralityplay in "The Mighty Ducks," both I and II. They've seen the football version in "The Little Giants." Now kids can see a team of underdogs learn that the real value of teamwork and practice is to smash your opponents once and for all in a soccer match. Afterward, the competition is no longer snotty.
Justin Rowe, 11, of Costa Mesa, who has seen all the above movies (three times in the case of "The Big Green"), explained the attraction this way: "Kids like the movie because it's like a kid movie and they like to go see it over and over because they probably like sports and kids playing around and all that."
But once was more than enough for his 15-year-old sister, Shari, a cheerleader at Costa Mesa High School.
"I probably fell asleep for about 10 minutes of the movie, maybe even more. My brother would say, 'There's 20 more minutes, Shari, just 20 more minutes. I'd keep asking him, 'How much longer is this movie? I want to get out.' "
Five or six years ago, she admitted, it might have been another story.
The story and characters are cartoonish, broad and simple enough for kindergartners: The gorgeous teacher Anna Montgomery (d'Abo) and the goofy, love-struck, Mayberry-type sheriff Tom Palmer (Steve Guttenberg) are pitted against Tom's old rival Jay Huffer--the Darth Vader of coaches, who leads the league champions.
The arrogant warriors are all athletic white males. The "Big Greens" are all races, sizes, shapes and genders. They become contenders in a matter of weeks.
Yet the children's situations are poignant slices of real life. Kate's parents are divorced; she lives with her drunken, neglectful father. Kids knew by her expression alone how much it meant to her that he showed up for the final game.
Juan's mother is an illegal immigrant; although he is the most skilled player, his mother doesn't want him to play, fearing that her secret will be exposed. Inevitably, it is, just before the big game.
Justin said that the first time he saw the movie, he didn't understand the situation. "I'm like, 'illegal'? How can they be illegal? They just came in to America." By the third time, he said he understood the problem was that she used a fake Social Security card to obtain work.
Kids agreed Juan (played by Anthony Esquivel) was their favorite player, but a close second was Larry (Patrick Renna), the chubby goalie who is so freaked by approaching opponents that they appear to him as Vikings, Ninjas or the Walking Dead.
The dramatic end was most kids' favorite part; it had children in the theater clapping and jumping in their seats. Another popular scene was a practice session held in the rain. Something to try this winter?
A recreational soccer player, Monserrat Martinez, 7, of Santa Ana, said the only thing she didn't like about the movie was the Big Greens' early loss. She ran out of breath, however, trying to list the parts she did like:
"I thought it was funny, and I liked how the pictures were made, and I liked the songs, and I liked the soccer when they won the champion. I also liked the part where the boy, he stepped in the mud, I think, and I liked the part where the boys let the cows all out. At the end of the movie, I liked the songs, and I liked the part when he had the nightmares."
She sighed. "I forget all the rest."