Review by Michael Jacobson
Tommy Kirk, Dorothy Maguire, Fess Parker, Kevin Corcoran, Chuck Connors
Director: Robert Stevenson
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.75:1
Studio: Walt Disney
Features: See Review
Length: 84 Minutes
Release Date: May 7, 2002
know we’ve got to.”
know, Ma. But he’s MY
dog…I’ll do it.”
of us had some kind of pet or pets when we were kids, and for a lot of us, our
first experience with death came because of them. It’s always an experience that begs the second big
question…the first is “where did I come from?”, and the second is “where
am I going?”
partly a movie about a dog, but it’s mostly about a boy whose experience with
the dog helps him to grow up a lot faster and better than he ever thought he
might. That boy is Travis Coates
(Kirk). At the beginning of the
film, his father (Parker) is leaving the family ranch for a three month cattle
drive, leaving the boy in charge of the family and the land during a critical
time. If, for example, he doesn’t
get the corn sown just right, there’ll be no food for the winter.
father leaves, and at the same time, a big yellow mutt enters the scene.
At first, he seems like a mischievous troublemaker, turning Travis’
simple farm chores into a nightmare. But
his younger brother Arliss (Corcoran) takes to him, as does his mother
(Maguire). It’s going to be an
uneasy peace between the two.
as the movie follows their adventures, Travis learns there’s a lot more to Old
Yeller than meets the eye. He’s
smart, fast, and brave…traits that are immediately apparent when he saves
young Arliss from a bear attack. Travis
warms up to the dog., then learns to love him.
children’s relationships with their animals are temporary ones at best.
By the time Travis’ father returns home to the ranch, Old Yeller will
be a memory. And Travis will have
taken his first sad but sure steps towards adulthood by learning that love
sometimes comes with grave responsibility.
For my money, Tommy Kirk gives one of the greatest juvenile performances
ever in a movie with this role.
on the original book by Fred Gipson, who also co-penned the screenplay, Old
Yeller has been a family classic for 45 years now, and it’s easy to see
why. It holds the power to touch
both young and old like few films have. I
remember the first time my mother sat down with me to watch it…I didn’t know
then, but I know now that she knew what was coming, but she was letting me
experience it for the first time. I
think maybe in watching me, it helped her to see it for the first time all over
think it might be the same for me if I ever get to introduce a child to this
movie. Old Yeller is just
that kind of picture.
much as I enjoyed seeing the movie again, I was a little less than enthralled by
the video presentation. Thumbs up
to Disney for offering it in anamorphic widescreen, but come on…did this
seriously merit a THX certification? Colors
are sometimes vibrant in a few beautiful segments, but mostly, they fall a tad
flat. Tones seem just a click less
natural than they should. Images
are a bit soft throughout…the level of detail falls sadly short in many deep
focus scenes. I didn’t notice any
grain or too much in the way of print problems like scars or spots, but a little
restoration effort was definitely in order.
A classic like this deserves nothing else, especially if it’s going to
sport the THX logo.
5.1 soundtrack fares a little better, but there’s a noticeable difference
between dialogue scenes and scenes with more effects and music.
The former sounds its age a little more…a bit flatter and thinner.
The music, on the other hand, sounds terrific, and the many effects
scenes are quite lively and open up nicely with some good dynamic range and
subwoofer signal. For a 45 year old
film, this is an easily impressive mix.
features are fantastic, starting with a pleasant commentary track on Disc One.
It features Tommy Kirk, Fess Parker, Bob Weatherwax (the son of Old
Yeller’s animal trainer) and, recorded separately I think, Kevin Corcoran.
It’s a nice little trip down memory lane, less scene specific and more
just talking about whatever enters their minds at the time, but overall, an
enjoyable listen. The movie is also
preceded by, appropriately enough, a Pluto cartoon short, the classic “Bone
Two contains all the other goodies, starting with a new documentary “Old
Yeller: Remembering a Classic”. It
contains new interviews with the cast members and fond recollections of Spike,
the dog that played the title role. There
is a 15 minute conversation with Tommy Kirk, which is a delight…he recalls not
only this movie, but a lot of other pictures he made with Disney over the time
period. There is a short
compilation tribute called “Dogs”, all about…well, dogs (in the Disney
movies, of course).
production archives are extensive, and include production stills and photos,
cast bios, advertising artwork, a trailer and TV spot, audio archives (a radio
spot, a special on sound effects, listening to the audio of different scenes one
stage at a time), a reunion of the Gipson family (the man who wrote the book), a
Disneyland special on dogs (about an hour), a screenplay excerpt, and a “Lost
Treasures” segment on the Golden Oaks Ranch, where much of Old Yeller was
there is a Disney studio album from 1957…a look at Disney and their projects
for that year. Another outstanding
Vault Disney package!