In 1935, an 8-year-old orphaned boy is sent to live in the Tennessee mountains with his grandparents. He doesn't yet know that he is half Cherokee, on his grandmother's side. As he learns about life and the Cherokee "way" from his grandparents, Little Tree's sensitivity to nature and to others grows.
At first it might seem easy to dismiss this movie as hokey, especially when Little Tree's Scottish grandfather teaches him to make whiskey and he befriends a dog. But the film gains emotional power when Little Tree becomes close to an older Cherokee who tells him about the Trail of Tears. When the government places Little Tree in an Indian school, where he is abused physically and psychologically, the tough issue of the forced assimilation of Native Americans isn't glossed over. Excellent performances and a gripping story make this well worth watching with children ages 8 and up.
An interesting side note: Forrest Carter, who wrote the book the movie is based on, was a one-time KKK member and speechwriter for George Wallace. It's hard to imagine how a former white supremacist could write such a moving tale about racism. Despite the controversy surrounding Carter, this sensitive film deserves to be taken on its own terms. --Elisabeth Keating