Like COOL RUNNINGS and THE AIR UP THERE, IRON WILL follows its own true story, this time the adventures of 17-year-old William Stoneman (Mackenzie Astin) from Birch Ridge, South Dakota. After his father’s sudden death, Will decides to enter a 500-mile dogsled race that will pay the winner $10,000 dollars. In 1917, these earnings would more than pay for the family’s mounting debts and allow Will to attend college. Against his mother’s wishes and those of his Indian friend, Will enters the race in Edmonton, Canada. The sponsor of the race, J.W. Harper (David Ogden Stiers) almost disqualifies him for being too young and not paying the late entry fee. At the last minute, a reporter named Kingsley (Kevin Spacey) puts up the money in exchange for the first interview in the hopes of boosting his writing career. Will’s surprising performance in the preliminary days of the grueling race earns him the name, IRON WILL. Will has tough competition, as the other sledders have much more experience, as well as ruthless ambition to win at all costs. His story is one of hope and determination against impossible odds. And as the Americans start seeing him as a symbol of their country’s bravery at a time of war, Will learns to overcome the limits of his own courage. This well-acted family movie is, except for very young children, appropriate for all ages.
Disney has kept the movie very clean with no nudity, no hint of sexual dialogue and almost no offensive language. The moral sense of the movie is strong and traditional, and in this case good may even triumph over evil. There is a hint of New Age Spirituality in the figure of Will’s Indian friend, but his comments may also be interpreted from a fairly Christian point of view. The violence, though never overdone, may be inappropriate for children under 10. For example, Will’s father is shown drowning at the beginning of the movie in a heart-wrenching scene. Will punches two men in the face and is knocked off his sled by a tree branch in another scene. The dogs are sometimes vicious and one dog fight is especially brutal. Dogs also turn and attack their master, but he is not seriously injured. Various threats are made at Will at knife-point and he is forced to try whiskey once. The rich sponsors of the race are depicted as drinking and gambling men. Overall, however, it is Will’s honorable character that dominates this inspirational story, making it a winner regardless of the outcome of the race.