Disney Film History: Tonka


As the 1950’s come to a close (Only a few more left until the 1960s!) it’s fun to look back and see what the decade was really alabout. The 1940s had given us were purely centered around animation at the Disney studio, but when Walt Disney found that he could make films faster and make money quicker, he opted to only give us 4 animated films in the 1950s as opposed to 24 live action and documentary films. As closely attached as animation is to Disney, we can’t forget his live action films either. The 1950’s also brought us plenty of Western films from the Disney studio. Westerns have often been romanticized as cowboys being heroes. Cowboys have often been “the good guys”, but through the prism of history we can settle on the idea that cowboys of the “wild west” often claimed land that wasn’t theirs, similar to those who landed at Plymouth, and they killed those Native Americans that stood in their way.

Walt Disney was one of the few Hollywood business men to portray a more realistic look at what times were really like during the 1800s. We discussed The Light in the Forest already and how a boy raised by Native Americans was taken back by the European Americans and eventually decides to no longer be part of the battle. This week we discuss a film that came out in the same year, Tonka.

tonka 1

Tonka is based on a book by David Appel titled “Comanche: Story of America’s Most Heroic Horse”. The film takes a look at how a young Native American boy named White Bull takes in and trains a horse. He names the horse Tonka. When the horse is mistreated by others, White Bull sets him free to run wild but the horse ends up being owned by a U.S. army captain named Miles Keogh and renamed Comanche. As the story unfolds, we find ourselves on the brink of war between the U.S. army and the Native Americans. Despite the rivalry, White Bull seeks out his horse in camp and befriends Miles as they share their common animal friend. Regardless of this friendship, the Battle of Bull Horn erupts and White Bull and his horse remain as the only ones left standing.

tonka 2

The film showcases fictional history and depicts the unnecessary rivalry between the European Americans and Native Americans. It’s an interesting film and one that has unfortunately been forgotten over the years. It was a success with critics and at the box office when it was released in December 1958. Maybe we would rather remember films from John Wayne or Clint Eastwood where cowboys are heroes, but I think I prefer this depiction. I like to remember history as having no true good guy or bad guy, but rather a story where everyone made mistakes and unfortunately we paid for it regardless of what side you were on.

Josh Taylor
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Previous Film: White Wilderness
Next Film: Sleeping Beauty


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Posted on September 16, 2015, in Articles, The Whole Picture and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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