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Set in 1935, the movie tells the story of a young woman, Natty Gann (Meredith Salenger). Out of work because of Depression-era unemployment, Natty's father (Ray Wise) travels from Chicago to the state of Washington to find work in the timber industry, leaving tomboyish Natty behind. Having no mother, Natty is left in the care of Connie (Lainie Kazan), the insensitive woman who manages the hotel Natty and her father had been living in. After overhearing Connie reporting her as an abandoned child, Natty runs away to find her father on her own, embarking on a cross-country journey. Along the way she is befriended by a wolf who travels with her for much of her voyage, has a brief, innocent romance with another young traveler (John Cusack), and encounters various obstacles that test her courage, perseverance, and ingenuity.
- Meredith Salenger - Natty Gann
- John Cusack - Harry
- Ray Wise - Sol Gann
- Lainie Kazan - Connie
- Scatman Crothers - Sherman
- Verna Bloom - Farm Woman
- John P. Finnegan - Logging Boss
- Gary Chalk - Chicago Worker
- Frank C. Turner - Farmer
- Gabrielle Rose - Exercise Matron
- Don S. Davis - Railroad Brakeman
- Alek Diakun - Station Master
Jed the wolf-dog
- The wolf-dog, Jed, who portrays the wolf befriended by Natty, later appeared as the title animal in White Fang. He also appeared as the first form taken by the alien creature in The Thing.
- This is one of the few Disney films to have rough adult expressions. When Solomon is told of Natty's apparent death due to her wallet being found on the train tracks in Colorado, his reaction is: "What the hell was she doing in Colorado?"
- Meredith Salenger appeared in the 2009 remake of Escape from Witch Mountain as a character named "Natalie Gann." This character cannot be the same as the one in this movie, since the age of the character would be significantly older. The name must simply be an in-joke.