This musical comedy weaves together sharp satire and heartfelt storytelling into a grand adventure. Through ten original songs, the film follows gruff explorer William Clark and his naturalist companion Meriwether Lewis as they blaze a trail to the Western waters. Along the way, they encounter the wise Sacagawea, battle the elements, and find that President Thomas Jefferson has some surprises up his sleeve.
|Release Date||:||July 13, 2016|
|Genres||:||Adventure, Comedy, Family, History, Music, Western|
|Production Company||:||Parisi Pictures, New Renaissance Pictures|
|Writers||:||Jeremy Hoffman, Kevin Abrams, Anthony Parisi, Jeremy Hoffman, Kevin Abrams|
|Casts||:||Jeremy Hoffman, Kevin Abrams, Jesse GrothOlson, Kristen Terry, Matt Bittner, Kerri Hellmuth, Chuck Neighbors|
This film was conceived by two friends/former students of mine: Jeremy Hoffman (who plays William Clark) and Kev Abrams (who plays Merriwether Lewis). It began as a 3-part web series created, written, shot, edited and scored (more or less in their own backyard of my home state of Oregon) by the two of them in 2011. It was certainly rough around the edges but it had a lot of intelligence, creativity and passion. I loved it... and not just because they asked me to provide the voice of one of the characters: a wise, old Eagle (played on screen by a puppet). I thought it showed a lot of promise and that it would make an excellent feature film.
Years later, as both Jeremy and Kevin pursued their individual careers in L.A. and New York respectively, Jer hooked up with an independent production company called New Renaissance Pictures and in particular with a young writer/director named Anthony Parisi. Parisi wanted to make MANIFEST DESTINY his next film and so the process of raising funding began. Through Kickstarter they were able to bring in over $10,000: an amount that wouldn't even cover the catering of a major Hollywood movie, but, because they were shrewd in stretching their dollar, allowed them to fashion a feature that, with a few notable exceptions, looked/sounded epic and had that professional polish that the original lacked. Fortunately, the cleverness, enthusiasm and ambition of the web series carried over. Since I personally have a lot invested in this film (both as a donor to the Kickstarter campaign that funded it and as a participant since I contributed some storybook-style ink drawings for the prologue and epilogue), I am not even going to pretend to be objective about it. I will just say that I unequivocally love this film (even more than I loved the web series). Jer, Kev, Anthony and a whole crew of generous volunteers have produced a wonderful, bright, colorful, joyous, hilarious, smart and unique finished product.
It tells the story of the famous expedition Lewis and Clark undertook to explore America's West in the early 1800's (an event that will, incidentally, also be the subject of an upcoming mini-series produced by Tom Hanks/Brad Pitt and starring Casey Affleck). That is about the beginning and the end of the connection to reality this film has. Though they play actual historical figures, there is about as much history in MANIFEST DESTINY as there is in ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER. Besides being a big, Disney-style musical with some incredibly catchy songs written by Jer and Kev (the most signature of which is probably "Fording the River" from which the attached photo was taken), the film is primarily a comedy. The characters of Lewis and Clark bear no similarity whatsoever to their real- life counterparts. Jeremy's Clark is a bitter, rugged little spitfire whose sole interest in undertaking the enterprise is to create a legacy for himself. By contrast, Kevin's lanky Lewis is a kind, gentle, nature-loving soul who believes in the nobility of their task. They are an unlikely pair with competing visions of their mission and, although their friendship does grow and deepen over the course of the story, they often bicker and argue along the way, behaving more like 12-year-old boys than grown-up explorers. They are also, as is evidenced by their occasional bad decision-making and general ignorance of how the world works, not the brightest men to ever ride a horse. On their journey they are helped by the young, lovely and very pregnant Native American Sacagawea (whose name they keep mispronouncing) played by Kristen Terry. At one point, in a sequence reminiscent of POCAHONTAS' "Colors of the Wind", she sings a song called "A Different Story" in which she tries to get Lewis and Clark to see the rare, untouched beauty of the land around them and in another hysterical scene, they assist her as she gives birth to her child during a massive snowstorm in what must be the most dramatic birthing song ever recorded ("This Baby Must Be Born").
Further illustrating the disparity between this work of fiction and the actual events upon which they are based, Jesse GrothOlson plays President Thomas Jefferson -- who commissioned the expedition in the first place -- as a petty, vindictive, insecure, power-hungry, narcissistic madman intent upon taking the credit for Lewis and Clark's hard work (Gee, America could never elect a president like that, could it?). In his hilarious self-titled song, he dances around his home and yells at portraits of Washington and Adams, calling them names and declaring himself the "one true great President." He is, in other words, the villain! Making Jefferson a bad guy, Lewis and Clark a couple of barely competent losers and even calling the film "Manifest Destiny" (let alone showing an opening number with a whole crowd of 17th century townspeople -- all white -- singing in praise of it) could potentially be considered a bold, provocative and politically incorrect move in a more serious film, but here the tone of the piece is so absurd, so silly, so far removed from anything resembling historical reality (there are, after all, talking animals/puppets in it), that I don't think it could be more inoffensive. In fact, even though the whole thing is incredibly nice and lighthearted, there is a subversive and satirical bent to MANIFEST DESTINY (not perhaps quite as pointed or edgy as something done by the two SOUTH PARK guys Trey Parker and Matt Stone, but similar and interesting nonetheless) that makes it relevant as well as fun. It's one of the many reasons I love the movie.