I remember an entire Sunday spent waiting for the airing of Look Back to Yesterday. I was six and must have reminded my parents that we’d be watching it at least a few hundred times. When it finally FINALLY came on, everything was weird and Albert was sick, passing out at a baseball game and having bloody noses all over the place. As it turned out, Albert was dying. At that point my mom made the totally appropriate decision to change the channel.
Thanks to the Legacy Movie Collection I was able to finish that movie…thirty-three years later. It has not improved with age. Pa (Michael Landon) has gotten some sort of important job in the city, so the Ingalls have money, but not quite enough money to send Albert to medical school without assistance. Luckily things are going Albert’s way – he’s been accepted by a university and a scholarship seems likely. Too bad he’s going to die.
Pa brings Albert back to Walnut Grove to visit everyone, with “everyone” being used in the loosest sense of the word. Ma vanishes at some point, Mary and Adam are nowhere to be found, and Harriet Oleson is mysteriously “out of town”. Vague references are made to “calling the children”, as though Pa can’t even be bothered to remember who used to live under his roof. It’s a stark contrast to the close-knit community we came to know and love, and a glaring example of lazy storytelling.
The movie progresses with more nose bleeds and a lot of doting on Albert. Laura (Melissa Gilbert) is especially worried that Albert will overexert himself. Her concern is met with a dose of reality from Pa, who basically grabs her, backs her in a corner and forces her to say, “my brother is going to die,” repeatedly until her denial is crushed and she bursts into tears. Nothing like a little tough love! Meanwhile, the school children are planning some sort of field trip up a mountain to add items to a time capsule (or something), so a disproportionate amount of excitement swirls around that. Eventually the two storylines collide and Albert climbs the mountain with the kids…like you do, when you’re terminally ill and no longer attend school. Spoiler…he never dies! Wha?
The next movie is a Christmas special, and boy is it special! Laura and Almonzo (Dean Butler) venture into town with Mr. Edwards (Victor French) to shop for Christmas presents. Laura steps into a shop, leaving her toddler, Rose, with Almonzo, who is promptly distracted by Mr. Edwards getting into yet another fight. He goes to break it up, creating the perfect opportunity for a deranged woman who just delivered a dead baby to steal Rose. Sound far fetched? Hardly! Laura got kidnapped and locked in a cellar when she was a kid too. Stuff happens, man.
The rest of the movie focuses on Laura, Almonzo, and Mr. Edwards searching for Rose with the help of a stowaway orphan boy. Imagine how perfect it will be when they reach the crazy lady’s house and swap out the orphan for little Rose! Surely the woman have come to her senses by then and prove to be a totally viable parent. Wah wah.
Back in Walnut Grove, there’s a great deal of anxiety over whether the Wilders will return with presents in time for Christmas. Will the holiday be ruined because of this bothersome kidnapping? Also, Nels (Richard Bull) is struggling to mold Nancy (Allison Balsam) into some semblance of a decent person. (Harriet is still in the Hamptons, or wherever.) Nancy’s effort to capture the Christmas spirit results in a tree crashing through the Oleson’s window. As it tumbles down around Nels, Nancy wails her signature, “You hate me!”, to which Nels replies, “Yes, I do!” This is easily the highlight of the movie.
The third movie in the collection, The Last Farewell is the legendary (notorious?) series finale where they blow up the town. This is not a spoiler as much as the whole reason you’ll want to watch, and rest assured, it’s every bit as nonsensical as it sounds. It’s also weirdly upsetting. The remaining residents of Walnut Grove discover that their town was built on an Indian reservation which was, in turn, bought by some sort of evil corporation. They come back to claim what’s theirs, making snide comments like, “we own this land and we own you.” Anxiety rises among the townspeople, who will be losing everything they have worked so hard to build. Eventually Laura snaps, dramatically breaking out the windows in her house with a broom handle.
Inspired, the rest of the town follows suit, hatching an elaborate plan to blow everything up. It sounds a little frivolous, but in true Michael Landon fashion, there are close ups of each character as they step up for their turn at taking out a building, a zoom on the dynamite box (or whatever it’s called), and then this weird slow-motion Wile E. Coyote moment where they push the plunger. BOOM! The schoolhouse goes up in a ball of fire. BOOM! There goes the church. It’s so slow and deliberate, not to mention eerily still and quiet, that you start to get a sick pit in your stomach. Little House is gone and there’s no bringing it back.
On that depressing note, Little House on the Prairie: Legacy Movie Collection gives you every reason to delve back into the show and revisit happier times, or at least tragic times that were written more smartly. As awesomely terrible as these movies are, they represent the show’s last gasp, and are a must have for any completist.