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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

The Little Red Truck

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The Little Red Truck

Las Vegas Round The Clock - http://www.lasvegasroundtheclock.com
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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“The Little Red Truck,” is an award-winning documentary film by Rob Whitehair, chronicling the Missoula Children’s Theatre (MCT) which is the world’s largest touring children’s theatre, founded in the 1970’s and based in Missoula Montana.

Following more than 250 kids in five communities the documentary takes the viewer through six days of auditions, rehearsals, setbacks, anecdotes, backstories and finally, the finished, costumed and choreographed production. MCT’s signature truck comes to small towns and villages as well as big cities, packed with everything necessary for staging a musical, (The Little Mermaid, The Frog Prince, and Robin Hood are some examples) The two tour directors/actors recruit, audition and rehearse 50 to 60 youth, aged 5-18, to serve as cast members. Usually none of the kids have had any previous exposure to musical, dramatic, or performing arts.

Because of budgetary concerns, fine and performing art curricula are typically among the first programs to be cut, denying thousands of school children a chance to be enriched by the cooperative teamwork, self-discipline and social skills necessary to perform as a cohesive unit. MCT’s portable approach to this dilemma addresses that problem by dispatching trucks all over the United States and about a dozen other countries to round up interested youth and give them a week that will culminate in an activity, a discovery or even sometimes a revelation.

Two tour directors/actors audition, cast and rehearse the children for five days with the final production taking place on the sixth. Everyone gets stage time, a costume, and a musical number. Most of the documentary illustrates the controlled chaos that the teams encounter in managing their excited, sometimes fearful, sometimes hyperactive charges. One Canadian girl is legally blind but takes on the challenge of having the most lines of anyone in the play. An Arizona boy relates the effectiveness of theater in keeping him away from gang activity. Another girl chickens out of her role right before she’s to go on stage, accompanied by tears of fear and disappointment.

The various tour directors/actors, all acting hopefuls themselves, offer insight into their ever-changing populations, with one of them stating why she prefers the “pee-wees” or five-year-olds, best, and another recounting parental interference in a cluster of heartbreaking examples. These director teams are endlessly optimistic and encouraging, in some cases representing the only adult in a child’s life that can be said to be a positive role model. Self-esteem is pumped into the kids like they’re bicycle tires. The effect is transforming.

J.K. Simmons, perhaps best known for his role as the father of a pregnant 16-year old in last year’s hit, “Juno” makes a surprise cameo supporting MCT’s efforts with a little background information on his own life. Look for his small but hilariously serious role in the motion picture “Burn After Reading.”

Written, directed and edited by Rob Whitehair, and released by Tree and Sky Media Arts Ltd., “The Little Red Truck” transports us to several different locations in Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania, along with Hollywood, California and a small village in Canada. Skipping from production to production, Whitehair illustrates the universal resilience, spirit and energy of all children, despite varying circumstances and socio-economic backgrounds. He shoots his subjects much like a parent filming a home movie, taking the viewer through progressively sequential steps and featuring whole chunks of each production on opening (which is also closing) night.

At 98 minutes, the film can seem a little long at times, as rehearsals, scenes and kids can tend to run together undifferentiated from one another, unless someone is a behavior problem or has a medical condition. There’s no slickness here, just straightforward documentation of a process that’s repeated every week, and the 50 or so kids who reap immense benefit from it.

Awarded “Best Feature Documentary” at the International Family Film Festival in Hollywood, California, and singled out as “Best Documentary” by the Idaho Film & Television Institute at its Spudfest Family Film Festival, the film also received the Dove Seal of Approval for all ages and been recommended by the Parent's Television Council.

“The Little Red Truck” debuted nationally on September 5. (Regal Village Square Stadium 18 here in Las Vegas).

So the next time you see a little red truck on the road, don’t be surprised if you find it filled with frogs, mermaids, adventurers, and assorted sea creatures, waiting to spring to life in full color and accompanied by song. Just add kids.