Smells Like Team Spirit


A weak-kneed feel-good film about overcoming prejudice in the wake of World War I, The Basket is a moralistic history lesson designed to charm parents. But it’s hard to imagine kids will be amused by the film’s pedagogical stock characters. The story is set in a small town in the Pacific Northwest, amidst acres of billowing wheat, rusty tractors, and endless sky. A new and somewhat mysterious teacher (Peter Coyote) takes over the one-room schoolhouse, and his unorthodox methods for engaging students—opera lessons (in German, no less) and a strange new game called basketball—raise eyebrows among the locals. The community’s already strained nerves—pulled taut by hard economic times and the ongoing war—are further tweaked by the arrival of two young German orphans (how they manage to come to this town in 1918 is never explained). The concept of basketball as a metaphor for life is what nudges this film toward its triumphant lesson: Teamwork conquers all. Bigotry melts away once the town discovers how well young Helmut shoots baskets. Everything plays out with the insipid drama of the preordained—with halfhearted dialogue accompanied by soundtrack crescendo. A throwback in the family-entertainment genre, The Basket combines the wholesomeness of Old Yeller with the moral and physical claustrophobia of The Waltons.