This becomes a springboard whereby Pleasantville satirises 1950s Families Values shows such as The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (1952-66) and The Honeymooners (1955-6). Director/writer Gary Ross crafts the world in such a way as to draw attention to the artifice of the fictional world that 1950s television existed in the books in the library are blank, geography lessons can construe of nothing beyond the town limits, the mother has never heard of sex. The film has considerable fun with this when a tree bursts into flame, Tobey Maguire runs into the fire station shouting fire to a fire crew who react with total bafflement and it is not until he cries cat that he is able to induce them into action.
Pleasantville has much more of a political axe to grind than The Truman Show. It has a soap box and uses this to make a strident and clear stand. The Family Values that are represented by the tv shows the film is satirising are seen as conservative with scenes of the husbands leading a lynch mobs against The Coloreds and trying to ban progressive values. Unfortunately, Gary Rosss desire to make a messagey point often becomes too broad and heavy-handed as he tries to stretch the films allegory to cover everything from the Civil Rights movement and feminism to an attack on conservatism.
One point of annoyance is the character of Reese Witherspoon who is created as a cynical Generation X catalyst who introduces sex and the first of the changes into Pleasantville. Unfortunately, once Reese Witherspoons function as a deus ex machina is over in the plot she is virtually dropped from the show, making a none-too-believable change into a bespectacled bookworm. The films advance publicity tended to suggest that Pleasantville was about an exchange of values one where the cynical Gen Xers get the town of cloying Family Values to loosen up at the same time as the conservative values also teach the Gen Xers something about tradition. Happily, this is about the only point that Pleasantville heads in this direction and instead it abandons the woolly-headed cliche of either values learning from the other and sets up the latter half of the film as a conflict between the traditional conservatives and the films championing of a joie de vivre.
Less so than its message, Pleasantville is more effective for its visual colour palette. Gary Ross employs some beautiful effects that blend colour and black-and-white film the initial appearance of a single red rose or some of the images of trees bursting into coloured flame, queues of people in the street where some are coloured, some not. There is a lovely scene driving through a rain of coloured blossoms. Never has colour managed to seem quite so beautiful.
Gary Ross had previously been a screenwriter for films like Big (1988), Mr Baseball (1992), Dave (1993) and Lassie (1994). Pleasantville was his directorial debut and he subsequently went onto make Seabiscuit (2003), the first of the popular Young Adult science-fiction films The Hunger Games (2012) and Free State of Jones (2016), as well as wrote/produced The Tale of Despereaux (2008).
(Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (Joan Allen) and Best Cinematography at this sites Best of 1998 Awards).