Somebody really needs to stop Disney from making sports films. The studio seems determined to lamely recast every underdog moment in recent sporting history, from a sterilized take on Seabiscuit to the cheesy treatment of Miracle, an unlikely story about the 1980 US Olympic hockey team. But with its latest, Glory Road, Disney has ventured into territory they are simply not equipped to handle.
Glory Road tells the remarkable story of the 1966 NCAA basketball champions, the Western Texas Miners. What is truly historical about the Miners is that for the first time ever, a starting line consisted entirely of black players. What's more, the Miners steamrolled over the lily-white powerhouse teams from the South. In many ways, their victories that year were as forceful as Dr. Martin Luther King's rousing speeches.
To be fair, Glory Road is an entertaining film, and the virtually unknown cast playing the Western Texas players—a mix of young actors and former basketball players—are solid, especially Desperate Housewives' easygoing, charismatic Mehcad Brooks. But it's what the film fails to do that makes Glory Road frustrating and disappointing. When the newly recruited black players first arrive on campus, they sit down for a meal with the white players, and sure enough, a few barbed comments fly back and forth over the color line. But somehow that racial tension quickly melts into a friendly game of black versus white basketball, played with heads of lettuce and other food stuffs. Oh, sure, it's a cute moment—but this avoidance tactic becomes the pattern of the entire film: Whenever the black players confront hardcore KKK racism, the filmmakers quickly comfort us with a wise speech from the coach or with a redeeming slam-dunk that shuts all the crackers up.
Ultimately, Glory Road is a likeable film, but sugarcoating the cruel racism of the time falsely and disappointingly turns an important civil rights moment into a saccharine, family friendly fairy tale.