It should come as no surprise that dreams do in fact come true in "Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story," a classic underfilly tale about a girl, her horse and the family farm they bet against when dad Ben (Kurt Russell) accepts an injured racehorse as partial severance after getting himself fired from his job as a horse trainer.
Directed by John Gatins (screenwriter for "Varsity Blues" and "Coach Carter"), the film stars Russell, Dakota Fanning and Kris Kristofferson as three generations of Kentucky horse breeders whose now 100% equine-free horse farm has been all but sold off to the Arab prince (Oded Fehr) next door.
Now Pop (Kristofferson) spends his days skulking around in an adjacent house not talking to his son, while daughter-in-law Lilly (Elisabeth Shue) picks up extra shifts at the diner and Ben stays up late with a calculator. The only member of the Crane family who dreams of reviving the family business is young Cale (Fanning). She tags along to work with Ben on the day his boss (David Morse) pushes him to race a filly called Sonador (Sonya for short), despite Ben's feeling that something is wrong with her leg.
When the leg shatters during the race, Ben refuses to have the filly put down in front of his daughter, and by the end of the day, he and Cale have returned home with the all-but-useless Sonya and two new employees in tow: a trainer named Balon (Luis Guzman) and an exercise jockey named Manolin (Freddy Rodriguez), whose early career was also derailed by an injury.
From there, it's more or less "Rocky" for kids, as the horse, of course, brings the family together, gets the jockey back in the saddle and saves the farm, all thanks to Cale's faith and perseverance. What it lacks in originality, "Dreamer" makes up for in coziness.
Sweet and unassuming, it lopes along against the beautiful, bucolic landscape of Kentucky and Louisiana, where it was shot on location by Fred Murphy.
The low-key charm of its setting underscores the easygoing performances of a relaxed, well-matched cast. Kristofferson doesn't oversell the grizzled grandpa routine or talk down to the little girl.
Fanning radiates intelligence and poise while acting her age -- a rare gift these days. "Dreamer" keeps the cuteness in check, so the predictable happy ending is more dessert than cream pie in the face.
There may not be much left to say about the relationship between a girl and her horse (it's a power trip, basically, but a comfy, loving power trip), but "Dreamer" says it all again in a way that's nice to hear.
MPAA rating: PG for brief mild language
Times guidelines: Very mild language and some implied danger
DreamWorks Pictures Present in association with Hyde Park Entertainment. A Tollin/Robbins Production. A Hunt Lowry Production. Written and directed by John Gatins. Produced by Mike Tollin and Brian Robbins. Executive Producers Ashok Armitraj and Jon Jashni. Executive producers Bill Johnson, Stacy Cohen, Caitlin Scanlon. Director of photography Fred Murphy. Production designer Brent Thomas. Editor David Rosenbloom. Costume designer Judy Ruskin Howell. Music John Debney. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.
In general release.