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BORN FREE

Review by Chastity Campbell

Stars: Virginia McKenna, Bill Travers
Director: James Hill
Audio: Dolby Digital Stereo
Video: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen,1.33:1 Standard Fullscreen
Studio: Columbia Tri-Star
Features: See Review
Length: 95 Minutes
Release Date: March 3, 2003

“Elsa, Elsa, Elsa!”

Film ***

Born free, as free as the wind blows, as free as the grass grows, born free to follow your heart!  Ahh…those sentimental lyrics that take you back to a time before the Crocodile Hunter ever uttered the word Crikey!   

The first of its kind to hit the big screen, Born Free helped to lay a cinematic foundation for animal movies of all kinds.   The beautiful Savannahs of central Africa are the setting for this story about life, love and letting go.   I’d be lion to ya if I said that didn’t sound a bit sappy folks! Get it, lion to ya?…ok, moving right along…

When Game Warden George Adamson is forced to kill a menacing lion and lioness, he finds himself in a predicament.  He didn’t realize when the lioness raced out of the brush that she was trying to protect the three small cubs she had hidden in there.   George takes the cubs home to his wife Joy, who falls in love with the runt of the litter.  She names the cub Elsa and we get to watch the three lions run rampant on the game warden’s Kenyan farm. 

The lion cubs begin to grow and soon it’s time to ship them off to the zoo.   Joy doesn’t want Elsa to go but she knows it’s the best thing for her.   She takes Elsa on a walk in the field they love to play in, and just like on TV, Elsa pulls a Lassie out of her hat!     Run, Joy, run, there’s a snake in the grass (literally).  Elsa will save you, and she did!   After that act of heroism George can’t stand to see Elsa and Joy separated so he surprises his wife by letting her keep the lioness as a pet.  

This movie took animal cinema to a whole new level.  Lions, up and until this point, had always been portrayed on screen as destructive man-eaters.   This movie allowed people for the first time to see lions in a different light, and I would imagine inspired many of the people who would make exotic animal studies their life’s work.

The performances of Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers were not Oscar worthy performances; however, you have to respect anyone who is willing to work side by side with an animal who could quite easily tear you limb from limb.  The real Oscar contender in this film was Elsa.   She had a feline grace about her and oh, those eyes…Betty Davis, eat your heart out.   Not to mention she is one of the first true Hollywood blondes!

The cinematography on this film was absolutely beautiful for its time.   The wide sweeping scenes, played out over the African Savannah, were very artfully done.  James Hill took on the challenge of directing this film, and in my opinion, he did a wonderful job.   People are hard enough for a director to work with, can you imagine how demanding it must have been for him considering his star was a lioness?   I can only imagine who he got to cater the shoot!  Zebra Hut?  

Born Free is true to its title in the end as the Adamson’s realize they must return Elsa to the wild.   When they do, it’s painful for them and Elsa too, but returning a year later to find a triple surprise makes them realize they did the right thing.

This is definitely a family friendly movie and one I would urge you to share with everyone in your household.   Put up against modern animal flicks enhanced by digital tricks, this film may look like a dinosaur.  But when you stop to consider how few positive family movies there are available today, you’ll appreciate its subtle beauty.

Video **

While I have seen better digital transfers Born Free was not a digital flop.  The 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen and 1.33:1 Standard Fullscreen presentations were very nice, although as usual, I prefer the widescreen version.   The film was dirty and it doesn’t appear that much restoration was done before the transfer to the digital format.     The frames shifted a time or two, but I can only assume that was because the original film was damaged in some way and was un-repairable.  

 Audio ***

The audio quality was not lacking in any way.  The dialogue was easily heard and understood and the sound effects were mixed very well.  The Dolby Digital Stereo mix was a very nice blend on a soundtrack that was so old.   I would assume some work had to be done in order for this to transfer to sound so well after so long.  

Features *

Features on older movies I fear will always be lacking, yet this movie did provide us with a few little tidbits.

We get movie trailers for Born Free, Living Free, Fly Away Home, and Running Free.  Interactive Menus allow you to navigate around the DVD and Scene selection allows you to pick and choose which scenes to watch over and over again. 

Subtitles in English, French, Korean, Spanish, and Japanese allow this movie to be shared globally. 

Summary:

Before Disney had Simba, before Kimba ruled the jungle, Elsa ruled the box office.   Bring this delightful movie home on DVD, it’s the cat’s meow, folks!