Kevin Costner/McFarland,USA/Disney Pictures

This post was last updated on January 10th, 2022 at 05:16 pm

Three cheers, uno-dos-tres, for McFarland USA, one of Disney’s non-animated (i.e live-action), non-princess, and non-orphan themed  movie – for those of you keeping track. Disney’s McFarland USA does not disappoint. It’s a family friendly movie with lots of teachable moments. I actually conducted this little exercise with my daughter and came away with at least 4 lessons learned from the film.

disney movie mcfarland usa
McFarland,USA/Disney Pictures

Based on a True Story

Disney’s McFarland USA staring Kevin Costner, is based on the true story of McFarland High School’s 1987 cross-country team. Costner stars as Jim White, a down on his luck football coach and teacher with a temper who can’t keep a job. He ends up at a predominately Latino school in a small rural California town, where many if not most of the locals work in the fields. White starts a cross-country team made up of boys from improvised families. After months of hard work and many disappointments, they win the California State Cross-Country Championship in 1987, essentially establishing a sports dynasty.

disney movie mcfarland usa
Kevin Costner/McFarland,USA/Disney Pictures


If you liked The Rookie, Remember the Titans, or Miracle – about the 1980 Olympic Hockey Team, then you’ll appreciate this movie. Yes, it’s predictable and formulaic – underdog, adversity, redemption and triumph. It’s even gotten some bad reviews. Entertrainment Weekly refers to McFarland USA  as “the neutering of the Hollywood sports movie.”  The Inquisitr  wrote an opinion piece on “why certain Disney movies aren’t meant for the big screen.” Regardless of “the formula” or the creative liberties Disney took with the storyline, there are many lessons children can learn from the film, and opportunities for parents to open some tough dialogue with their kids.

4 Lessons from the Disney Movie McFarland USA

Not everyone is as fortunate to have the basic necessities and then some. This was a visual lesson that was portrayed in a way that is not intimidating to youngsters. For my daughter, it was a chance, although dramatized, to get out of her little bubble. Our family is fortunate. We have roof over our head. We live in a nice neighborhood. Our kids go to great schools that are updated with the latest technology. We can afford to buy them new clothes and shoes without breaking the bank. I know there are many kids in our city and in cities across the country who live below the poverty line, get free breakfast and lunch at school, and attend schools that desperately need updating. Is this movie going to instantly change the way your kids think? Probably not! But, it’s a good starting point for discussion.

Cultural and racial acceptance. The saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover” applies here. In McFarland, USA, the White family moves to a small, dusty, mostly Latino community with more taco stands and Spanish signs than we have Starbucks. Costner’s daughter in the movie asks “are we in Mexico?” The seemingly out-of-place White family wants to leave ASAP, but needs to stick it out for a while. To their surprise, they are welcomed into the community with open arms. When the opportunity comes to move to a wealthier community with higher pay, the family is torn over what to do – stay or go.  

Success comes from hard work. Don’t Give up! Without giving away too much, the team learns this lesson after a disappointing cross-country meet. There is no fast and easy way to succeed in school, business, or life in general. You can’t just roll out of bed and expect to run a 5k. You need to work up to it. Put in the time and build your endurance. I took this lesson one step further using homework as a reference. If you rush yourself and turn in sloppy work you won’t get a good grade, even if the work is correct.

Family is important. Family comes first. The film shows several team members rising early before dawn to pick produce in the fields before school, and then again after school and on weekends just so their family can put food on the table. Their father is the foreman in the field and making sure their family is taken care of is the number one priority, even if it means not being able to compete. The lesson here, sometimes we have to make sacrifices for the good of the entire family. So yes kids, you might have to take an after school job to pay for your car insurance and gas, or in some cases help out with rent, even if your friends don’t have to work… and I’m sorry it’s on a Friday night and you have to miss the football game!

Final thoughts

McFarland USA is an inspiring sports movie. Because it’s based on a true story, there is more reason to sit up and pay attention. It has a positive message about teamwork, family and community without profanity or suggestive situations. To read interviews with some of the actors starring in McFarland USA check out my friend Coralie’s blog She is one of the amazing bloggers I met at a conference in January. You can read more about that in my post, 5 Ways to Grow Your Mommy Network, which is really more about networking than anything else.

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