It seems almost cruel to criticize The Little Red Truck, an earnest, cheery documentary about the Missoula Children’s Theatre. This Montana-based theater company, founded in the 1970s, sends two-person teams around the country and across the world in the titular little red trucks to mount theatrical productions in various cities and towns. The film follows five such productions, as the MCT representatives cast, rehearse and perform a play with local children in only six days.
The feat is, of course, impressive, and the dedication of the actor/directors from MCT is admirable. At first, the diversity of locations—including small towns in Arizona and Georgia, a small city in Pennsylvania, a remote village in Canada and the heart of Los Angeles—promises a varied look at the challenges faced by the MCT representatives, and the different approaches required to deal with a wide cross-section of kids. But the process is so streamlined and homogeneous that soon all five productions run together, and director Whitehair has trouble finding distinctive personalities to set any of his elements apart.
A girl in Canada who is legally blind and a boy in Arizona who talks matter-of-factly about his gang associations are the only children who really stand out, but even their stories are given only minimal screen time. For the most part, things run smoothly, and despite a few bumps along the way, each production—surprise!—turns out to be a success. The MCT employees are so upbeat about putting on plays and helping children that you start to long for something to go wrong just to offset all the boring positivity.
MCT is undoubtedly a worthwhile organization that provides a valuable service to thousands of children, but that doesn’t mean it’s fun to sit through what amounts to a 90-minute advertisement for the company. Whitehair pads the movie with filler, including long, uninterrupted excerpts from each play, and shoots in a straightforward, TV-newsmagazine style (with occasional sound-clarity issues). An actual news report, at 10 or 15 minutes, would have been informative and uplifting. An entire feature film, no matter how cute the kids are, is a serious snooze.