Set during the Great Depression, the story revolves around WWI hero and up-standing citizen Rusty Russell (Wilson), a math and science teacher, tasked with teaching orphans at the Masonic Home in Fort Worth, Texas. The students are exploited, forced to work manual labor and beaten when they step out of line, and even when they don’t. In an effort to build char acter and foster a feeling of self-worth in the boys, Russell forms a football team, even though they don’t have a football or shoes.
“We have two seasons,” says Doc Hall (Sheen). “One without shoes and one with shoes. This is the season without shoes.”
A montage or two later, Russell seems to be making progress with the team of underdogs but not everyone is happy about it. “Every second they’re on the field, we’re losing money. says Frank Wynn (Wayne Knight), the taskmaster who mistreats the boys.
According to Doc, their early practices look more “like an Arthur Murray dance class” than an organized sport but soon the team comes together. Named the Mighty Mites, they use new, innovative strategies that set them up for success and, ultimately, to be an inspiration to a nation in need of heroes. “You have to adapt if you want to be competitive,” Russell says. “We don’t have the size, so we have to utilize what we do have.”
“Twelve Mighty Orphans” is a feel-good film light on surprises but heavy on inspiration. It’s predictable and old-fashioned, but it undeniably has its heart in the right place: right on its sleeve. Fine performances from Wilson, Sheen (who appears to be having the most fun of anyone on set) and Duvall, as the team’s financier, help ground the film’s high strung emotional tone.
You’ll root for the team, and the movie too, even when you can barely see through the clichés.