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DVD Review: The Legend of Johnny Lingo  June 6, 2005

Mari — June 6 @ 8:58am

DVD Review: The Legend of Johnny Lingo

It’s been two years since The Legend of Johnny Lingo came to theaters, and I never managed to see it until recently. It wasn’t that I was avoiding it; I actually liked the original 1969 movie a great deal and wondered how this movie would tie in.

First, I know the original movie has its detractors. I’ve heard women complain that it seems to be saying women need men to make them beautiful. However, I never thought that was the message of the movie. What I liked about the original was that it showed a very real situation: a girl grows up in a home with an absent mother and an abusive father, who may also be an alcoholic, although I’m not sure if the Polynesians at the time of the story had access to alcohol. This girl is abused and neglected at home, and instead of her community supporting her and helping her, she is ridiculed and mocked by them. I think that at the time JohnnyLingo was filmed, most LDS movies avoided such sadly realistic subject matter. Its realism was valuable for a girl who grew up in a situation that at times resembled Mahana’s more than it did the family’s in that sweet LDS ad from the 70’s Julie Through The Glass (which made me cry, and still does when I think of it). And even better, as an audience we’re allowed to watch her escape from her horrible situation, grow up, and realize her own worth (facilitated by a marriage, yes, but he does say he knew her from childhood and always loved her). In my book, it isn’t such a bad thing to find love and worth after growing up unloved and deemed worthless at home.

So on to the sequel (or prequel, I guess). Overall, I thought it was pretty good. I enjoyed seeing Mahana as a stronger person than in the original, although I’m not sure how realistic it is to show a girl who has always been kept down as having so much confidence. I also liked having some background for Johnny, and it made sense to me that he would have come from a situation as sad as Mahana’s (because let’s face it, what cute young man from a happy, prosperous family who had good friends growing up would have known to look beyond Mahana’s exterior?). I thought Johnny was a heartbreakingly beautiful baby and toddler, which made it all the more sad for me to watch him be rejected repeatedly. I also loved that we got to tour the islands with Johnny and look at different cultures and beautiful scenery as the story developed, something there wasn’t really time for in the original.

The one thing that upset me about this film was the end-of-movie redemption of Mahana’s father. After almost twenty years of continual abuse, suddenly at the marriage bargaining scene he tells her what a good daughter she is and how deserving of love and happiness. I know the filmmakers wanted to show that there is a possibility for repentance and for mending hurtful relationships, but to me it seemed completely unbelievable. I know that some parents go through hard times, periods of depression, and deal with alcoholism and manage to overcome it. But others never seem able to care for anyone beyond themselves. I had always believed Mahana’s father to belong to the last category. I want to believe he could turn a corner and learn to love her in the future, but it gives me chills to imagine that man holding her future child in his hands. Perhaps I feel too close to the story to appreciate the gift of redemption that was offered to her father’s character, but the original seemed in this way both more realistic and more triumphant for Mahana, offering hope from a truly, irredeemably bad situation instead of a happy ending from a situation (and a parent) that, while bad, apparently had potential.


  1. Thanks for the thoughtful review, Mari!

    Jordan — June 6, 2005 @ 9:47am
  2. Mari, I liked your review of both the original and the new Johnny Lingo. I am probably one of those women you describe who dismiss the original as sappy stereotypes that tend to reinforce unhealthy ideas about using women as a medium of exchange between men, using beauty as the single most important characteristic a woman can bring into a marriage, the need for a man in order to make a woman fully valued in her community, etc. However, I never once thought about the fact that Mahana was from an abusive background. I recognized that living with her father was obviously terrible, but I never actually used the category of abuse to describe the situation. I think that’s an insightful and important observation to make. To be honest, I come from a loving and supportive background, and I know I’m unfamiliar with the terrible conditions some of my peers grow up in. I sometimes worry that makes me insensitive or blind to certain things–like abuse. So thanks for shaking up a rather naive progressive who sometimes gets caught up in criticism and doesn’t stop to see the value in things.

    Naomi Frandsen — June 6, 2005 @ 11:57am
  3. Mari. Just yesterday my wife taught a Relief Society lesson on forgiveness. As a visual aid she filled a backpack full of heavy things to represent grudges. She used a bag of potatoes, a bag of corn meal, two little dumbbells she uses for aerobics, and such things. And she did such a good job of it that she couldn’t hardly lift it! I was surprised how heavy one little backpack could weigh. So she had to have me carry it for her to and from the car. And none of the sisters in RS could carry it either.

    I saw an obvious type in this. That just as my wife needed me to carry the backpack, so the only way to get to our destanation is to let the Savior carry the loads of bitterness we feel at those who have wronged us.

    Aaron B. Cox — June 6, 2005 @ 12:51pm
  4. Yeah, Aaron, you’re just like Christ when it comes to carrying your wife’s backpacks.

    Anyway, back here on earth: My favorite thing about the original Johnny Lingo is that the Johnny goes on to become Lt. Singh in episode #23 of Star Trek, entitled “The Changeling,” first aired on September 29, 1967. Check out the IMDB entry for the star of Johhny Lingo.

    DKL — June 6, 2005 @ 1:36pm
  5. Aaron, I understand the need to forgive people for their past mistakes. I was just puzzled by Mahana’s father’s sudden change of heart because it seemed so out of character. I’m currently working on reconciling some issues with my mother, who wasn’t nearly as bad a parent as Mahana’s father, but it’s been more difficult than you might realize. Even after you forgive and let go of the bitterness, it can be hard to let yourself trust someone who has been untrustworthy in the past. But those are my own issues, and I admit it’s probably a good thing it worked out for Mahana, even if it wouldn’t be likely in real life.

    Mari — June 6, 2005 @ 1:48pm
  6. DKL, that was the funniest thing I have read all day. Thank you.

    J. Stapley — June 6, 2005 @ 1:52pm
  7. Mari, I would have been prepared to dismiss Johnny Lingo as trite fluff, but I was surprised at the meaning you could wring out of it. Of course, this came from probing beyond the movie’s simplistic presentation; perhaps, sometimes, it is the same with pat “Sunday School” answers. I suppose, then, it’s more the meaning you were able to bring to it than wring out of it that I find interesting here.

    Christian Y. Cardall (TSM) — June 6, 2005 @ 9:10pm
  8. Anybody else get totally annoyed by the Noni Juice plug. As Mormons, we’re all such good capitalists, I’m glad they got a good wholesome commercial in there…

    Karen — June 6, 2005 @ 10:50pm
  9. LOL, Karen! Was there an ad for MLM scheme to market the DVD in the bonus feature, Mari?

    As you may have noticed, I tend to read things critically (in the technical sense). But my favorite books and movies, the ones I’d read or watch again, are those to which I respond with the simplest recognition and identification. It sounds like you identify with Mahana, Mari, and that you have a few stories of your own in your past. Know that you have a supportive readership if you ever want to share those stories.

    Rosalynde — June 6, 2005 @ 11:06pm
  10. Thanks for sharing this, Mari. It made me think about Johnny Lingo in ways that I never had before. I guess I always had a hard time getting past the humor I found in lines like, “Mahana, you ugly. Get down from that tree.” We had a film strip of Johnny Lingo in my mission and the Spanish translation was, “Bajate fea.” It cracked me up in two languages.

    But seriously, I see that you’ve made both versions of the story intensely personal and I can understand that. In fact, your post jarred some memories loose in my brain. I remember this church movie that really made a big impact on me when I saw it growing up. It was really sad, but I can’t remember what it was called. The kid I identified with wrote poems about willows and I think and one point he falls out of a bus.

    Does anyone remember that or am I making this up?

    SeptimusH — June 7, 2005 @ 2:37am
  11. Septimus, was it Cipher in the Snow?

    Mari — June 7, 2005 @ 7:51am
  12. SeptimusH,

    The video you’re thinking of is called “Cypher in the Snow”

    Brother Joseph — June 7, 2005 @ 7:57am
  13. Oh, ROFL, I spelled it wrong! (I have a friend who goes by CyPhear at LAN parties…)

    Brother Joseph — June 7, 2005 @ 7:59am
  14. The Spanish version line that sticks with me is “Siempre la he amado desde que eramos nios.” (”I’ve always loved her since we were children.”) The vowels really flow.

    John Mansfield — June 7, 2005 @ 8:46am
  15. Cipher in the Snow. That’s it. Thanks. Kind of an odd title. Man, that was a sad movie.

    SeptimusH — June 7, 2005 @ 9:16am

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