Toy Dancers, Castles, and Swans
Tin Soldiers (2015) 7 out of 10: Heartwarming and an inspirational documentary about athletes that have various disabilities related to mobility.
The Good: You will feel better after watching this. You may also feel out of shape after watching this. Some of these athletes perform amazing feats, even removing the fact they cannot use (or do not have) their legs or arms.
Tin Soldiers focuses on a variety of athletes of various skill levels and ages, but two subjects stand out in particular. Zack Ruhl (The gentleman who may definitely make you feel out of shape) is a bodybuilder and CrossFit instructor who had his legs amputated at age 2. He gets around on a skateboard and really seems to have his life together. His physical prowess and positive outlook on life is contagious.
Speaking of athletes, another subject of the documentary Alana Nichols is amazing. Nichols is the first American woman with gold medals in the summer and winter games with victories in wheelchair basketball, women’s downhill (skiing) women’s giant slalom (skiing). Alana lost the ability to use her legs at age seventeen during a snowboarding accident. She fell into wheelchair basketball and somehow (The documentary skips a few bits) got herself on the USA Olympic Team in Beijing. Alana then said I am a bit tired of basketball and decided to be a gold medal downhill skier. She now sticks to motivational speaking and surfing.
Thank goodness Alana is a real person, because as a fictional character she would read as a Mary Sue insert fan fiction. I would have loved to see an entire documentary on just her with her story fleshed out.
The Bad: The rest of the featured people in Tin Soldiers are wonderful motivational people. Their stories are often moving and heartbreaking. Alas, they just can’t compete with a legless man who could bench-press a pickup or Olympic woman who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry during her Playboy shoot. It’s as if you did a documentary on people who have unsuccessfully invaded Russia. Hitler and Napoleon are going to overshadow Charles XII of Sweden.
If the filmmakers had just concentrated on ordinary people who are trying (and sometimes failing) to manage with their disabilities it might have been a stronger film overall. By including the two Übermensch, it overshadows the small everyday victories that the other participants have every right to be proud of.
The Ugly: I am on the record of being very much in favor of sending terrified toddlers down steep inclines. I even have an old collection of Toddlers Fall Off of Cliffs tapes (from the same people who did the Bumfights videos, I believe). I mourn our politically correct world where sending toddlers to their doom is considered “abuse” or “What the hell is wrong with you”. So I applaud the filmmakers for their hilarious visions of two-year-olds in wheelchairs being pushed off steep inclines at the skatepark. Bravo.
My complaint is actually the inordinate amount of footage at the skatepark itself. Tin Soldiers seems to live at this one skatepark and while we get some decent shots of terrified children; we get a lot more shots of people in wheelchairs going down… well ramps. Which is what wheelchairs are supposed to do. For a film that honestly needed to tell more of the story with a lot of its subjects, there seems to be an awful lot of wheelchairs at the skatepark filler.
Hey, I learned Something.
Hey, I learned Something: I originally was going to complain that the title Tin Soldiers seemed off. None of the participants in the film were former soldiers, and the entire premise seemed vaguely insulting. But, for a change, I decided to do some research before spitting out my uninformed opinion. It turns out that the phrase is most associated with Hans Christian Andersen‘s 1838 fairy tale, The Steadfast Tin Soldier. It concerns a tin soldier who had only one leg because “he had been left to the last, and then there was not enough of the melted tin to finish him.” So bravo to our literate filmmakers.
In Conclusion: Tin Soldiers is a heartwarming documentary that left me wanting more. I wish it had dived a little deeper into some of its subjects and felt like a bit of a PR piece at times. Still, it will find a place on my shelf next to my Toddlers Fall of Cliffs and The Grandmas Getting Run over Christmas Special videos.