Underdog stories are timeless, as we know, but audiences love a timeless tale that can be translated and adapted to their modern times. For the American audience, that means football, and to many the game doesn't get any more pure than the Texas high school level.
We established in this in our last story about Hollywood turning a based-on-a-true-story Texas high school football season into a movie, way back, uh, two weeks ago. And with all apologies to the odds overcome by the 2009 Abilene Eagles, this may be the ultimate underdog story of Texas high school ball.
12 Mighty Orphans is based on the 2008 book of the same name by Jim Dent. (It's not exactly the same name; Sony Pictures apparently decided reading Twelve Mighty Orphans, the actual book title, was too heavy a lift for movie audiences.)
The story takes us to the Fort Worth Masonic Home in the 1930s, a school for orphaned boys who find success on the gridiron. And not only are these kids orphans, they're small orphans. From the book blurb:
In the 1930s and 1940s, there was nothing bigger in Texas high school football than the Masonic Home Mighty Mites―a group of orphans bound together by hardship and death. These youngsters, in spite of being outweighed by at least thirty pounds per man, were the toughest football team around. They began with nothing―not even a football―yet in a few years were playing for the state championship on the highest level of Texas football. This is a winning tribute to a courageous band of underdogs from a time when America desperately needed fresh hope and big dreams.
Here you'll find all the familiar tropes of every sports movie, a ragtag group of misfits who have to convince the higher-ups to even start a team, only to hit the field and immediately suck. Eventually, our heroes figure out that if they little differently, take some risks and dig a little deeper then maybe, just maybe, they might find some success.
Luke Wilson stars as coach Rusty Russell with appearances by Robert Duvall and Martin Sheen.
Before the Permian Panthers of Friday Night Lights, before the Milan Indians gave us Hoosiers, there were the Mighty Mites of Fort Worth's Masonic Home.
There's nothing here you haven't seen a thousand times before, but that's the the point. With backing by a major studio, 12 Mighty Orphans will get a wide release this June. Who's joining me at the theater?