Reviewed by: Brett Willis
Starring: Dorothy McGuire, Fess Parker, Tommy Kirk, Kevin “Moochie” Corcoran, Chuck Connors, Jeff York, Beverly Washburn, Spike | Director: Robert Stevenson | Producer: Walt Disney | Writers: Fred Gipson, William Tunberg
If I had to choose one Disney live-action film as the best of all time, I would choose “Old Yeller”. Take note, however, to the mild violence and other content that requires caution in letting children below a certain age watch it.
The story, set in Texas around 1870, deals with a farm/ranch family who must make do while dad and most of the rest of the settlement’s men are away on a cattle drive. There are good cameos from Fess Parker and Chuck Connors and some comic relief from Jeff York as a freeloading loudmouth, but the core of the film belongs to young Travis (Tommy Kirk), kid brother Arliss (Kevin Corcoran), their mother (Dorothy McGuire), and stunt dog Spike as the stray “Old Yeller Dog” who possesses an almost human intelligence and saves all the major characters' lives at one time or another. The portrayal of the hardness of life a century ago, and the sadness of the ending, may not be appropriate for some children under age 8 or so (depending on what kind of films they’re otherwise used to watching). But it’s definitely a worthwhile family film from both an entertainment and a lesson-teaching standpoint.
For another family activity, the original novel by Fred Gipson is an interesting read. It differs a little from the screenplay and is written in the first person (narrated by Travis), in a backwoods dialect.