In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “Even without the advantage of nostalgia, Old Yeller totally lived up to its iconic reputation and ubiquitous place in the public’s consciousness 60 odd years after its release. ”
“If that don’t beat all. I never saw such a dog.”
Some movies are so iconic and part of the collective consciousness, it feels like you’ve seen them, even when you haven’t. Old Yeller is so engrained in movie history, I’ve never seen it, I may not even know anyone who’s seen it, but I know exactly what it is, what it’s about and how it ends. I don’t know if it was ever a big deal in Australia, but it was such a big deal in America that it has been referenced so many times over the years in TV shows and movies, that I know exactly what it is, what it’s about and how it ends. But now, I finally have first experience with Old Yeller, so I really know exactly what it is, what it’s about and how it ends.
In Texas not long after the Civil War, Jim Coates (Fess Parker) has left the family farm in an attempt to make some money on a cattle drive. Left back home are his wife, Katie (Dorothy McGuire) and two sons, the tween Travis (Tommy Kirk), and his younger brother Arliss (Kevin Corocoran). Travis finds a stray dog, soon to be known as Old yeller, in the family’s corn field and tries to shoo him away, but Arliss immediately adopts him as his own. When Yeller later saves Arliss from a wild bear, the rest of the family comes to love him as well.
Soon enough, Yeller is helping chase raccoons away from their crops, helping Travis trap wild boars and fighting off all sorts of animals that wander onto the Coates’ farm. Arliss may have been the one to bring Yeller into the family, but it’s the older brother who creates the real bond with the dog. A bond that helps him assume the father figure role and responsibilities in the family way ahead of his time.
I knew exactly what Old Yeller was, what it was about and how it would end. I also knew exactly what kind of movie I could expect from a live action Disney joint from 1957. What I didn’t expect was that this movie would win me over anyway. How can you not love a story about a boy and his dog? It’s all innocence and loyalty and optimism and good old fashioned Disney values. And when tragedy strikes, as it always must in a Disney movie, it’s all the more gut wrenching because of that innocence, loyalty and optimism.
Even without the advantage of nostalgia, Old Yeller totally lived up to its iconic reputation and ubiquitous place in the public’s consciousness 60 odd years after its release. If you haven’t seen it, you can expect to know exactly what it is, what it’s about and how it ends. But if you do watch it, I think you’ll be surprised by how well it works, despite all of that prior knowledge.