CowgirlsnAngels2coverGrade: B
Entire family: Yes, though some boys might resist
2014, 91 min., Color
20th Century Fox
Rated PG for mild thematic elements and brief language
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1 widescreen
Featured audio: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Bonus features: D

Competition TV series are popular now, but they’re mostly dance-, song-, or pageant-related. I can’t think of a single series or film that uses the rodeo as a backdrop for light family drama, and there is something mesmerizing about watching horses move—especially the mini-horses that appear in this sequel, ones that scamper rather than gallop, and that are not much taller than an adult’s waist. They’re just so darned CUTE.

Cowgirls ‘n Angels 2: Dakota’s Summer is a Dove-approved sequel that features an all-new cast and is aimed mostly at girls ages six through 16. But the acting is solid, the trick riding captivating, and the situation interesting enough to where it might appeal to the whole family.

Dakota’s Summer stars Haley Ramm (X-Men: The Last Stand) as a teen who’s teamed with her more talented sister in a trick-riding duo for Sweethearts of the Rodeo. Early in the film she wonders aloud why the granddaughter of a famed rodeo trick rider would have such a hard time with it, compared to her sister. It’s like we’re totally different, she says. “You don’t know the half of it,” her sister remarks, and that leads to Dakota’s discovery that she is really adopted.

Now, everywhere across America there are adopted children who wonder who their birth parents are, and it’s never as easy as leaving your family to go to stay with Rodeo Grandpa, who was behind the adoption, and finding the names of the parents in a clearly marked file in his desk drawer. And finding birth parents is never as easy as just going to the address on the form, and there they are.

When Rodeo Grandpa (Keith Carradine) uses his mini-horse ranch for a program to benefit troubled children in foster care, not one of those children appears genuinely troubled. No one tests the boundaries of authority or pushes to see whether an adult will reject him/her again, and when one of them leaves with a mini-horse and buggy and Dakota arrives on the scene where there are flashing lights and an ambulance, the cart is trashed but neither the runaway girl (Jade Pettyjohn, American Girl: McKenna Shoots for the Stars) nor the little horse are in any way harmed. The whole foster care/adoption cycle is also less than realistic.

But realism isn’t the goal here. Dakota’s Summer is a feel-good family film that doesn’t pretend to be anything more—and it’s tough to walk away with a good feeling when the same old garbage that happens in real life happens as well in the movies. My daughter likes happy films, and she liked this one. I did too, and so did my wife.  But I am perplexed as to why this earned a PG rating. It’s as wholesome as can be.

CowgirlsnAngels2screenThere are no kids acting overly cutesy, and though every little problem is solved for each character by the time the final credits roll, you’re okay with it because that’s the way it was set up from the very beginning. There is hope. You can make friends with mean girls and beat them at their own game. You can find your birth mom and have a relationship with her and still retain your real parents. You can find an adoptive family even if you’re one of the oldest kids in the corral, you can find a friend when you need one most, and you can find a love interest without any of the annoying decisions that often accompany relationships. No one is pressured to have sex, because sex is as far removed from this rodeo drama as Times Square.

Unrealistic? Sure. But films like Dakota’s Summer are a welcome oasis for children who live in an increasingly complicated world that offers many more chances for heartbreak than heartwarming moments. It’s formulaic, it’s predictable, and nothing really bad happens to anyone. Yet those darned horses are as therapeutic for viewers as they are for the troubled kids, and these characters are ones we care about. There’s a place for light drama and formulaic, feel-good movies, and as that genre goes, Cowgirls ‘n Angels: Dakota’s Summer is an entertaining film that will definitely appeal to the target audience, and maybe even the entire family.