(The Disneycember logo is shown, before showing clips from Old Yeller. The film's title song plays in the background)
Doug (vo): By popular demand, and I do mean very, very, very popular demand, Old Yeller. This is the one I probably got the most criticism over skipping. Everyone proclaims it a Disney classic, and the reason I didn't review it before is because...quite honestly, I had never seen it before. The reason? Well, everybody ruined the ending for me. I won't give it away here, but let's just say, if you know the ending, you kind of get the idea what kind of story it is, and even though I knew it was probably good, I kind of avoided it, saying to myself, "I much rather see a film I don't know the ending to." But Disneycember, rightfully so, has forced me to finally look at this film that's beloved by so many, and...yeah. It is really, really, really good. Honestly, it's among one of Disney's best. The reason being that a story like this can so easily be done wrong, it can so easily be made too corny, it can so easily get wrapped up in sappy music or overly sympathetic speeches, and, especially being Disney, you would think that's what was gonna happen in this film. But it doesn't. It has a very nice, consistent tone.
Doug (vo): The story centers around a family whose father, played by Fess Parker, has to go away for three months on a cattle trail. He declares his son, played by Jeff York*, to be the man of the house to run things and make sure the farm goes smoothly and all that good stuff. But it gets off to one heck of a bad start when a stray dog makes all sorts of trouble, scaring away the animals, eating up a bunch of the food, just being an all-around pain. But his younger brother says he really wants a dog and the mother seems to kind of agree. A friendly animal, even if he is a troublemaker, would work out well, seeing how the little brother now has very few friends to hang with, seeing how his older brother is now taking care of everything. But the older brother vows never to like the dog, while overtime, the dog does prove his worthiness, and, of course, they form a strong friendship. From this point on, it's nothing but the experiences and adventures that him and his dog share.
- (The actor who plays the oldest son is actually named Tommy Kirk. Jeff York plays Bud Searcy in the film, who also plays Mike Fink in Davy Crockett and the River Pirates.)
Doug (vo): Yeah, that's right. No straightforward villain, no money scheme, no any of that dumbass crap that we feel we have to put in these other family films. It's just the experience of a boy and his dog, and you know what? If it's done right, that's all you need. And this film clearly does it right. A lot of that centers on two things.
[The main character, Travis Coates, is shown]
Doug (vo): One is our main actor. He does so well playing this kid who is constantly getting crapped on, but still tries his best to pull things through. You can see the frustration, you can see the aggravation, you can see him getting so angry over all this. But at the same time, when things go well, he does legitimately enjoy that, too. The whole film centers around when he's supposed to be tough and when he's supposed to be sympathetic, when is it time to fire the gun and when is the time to put the gun down. In this environment, those are not easy choices, and this actor does a wonderful job showing his struggle through it all.
[Various clips resume showing]
Doug (vo): And speaking of environment, that's the other thing that is done so well in this film. The pacing, tone, and atmosphere plays a big part in why this movie is such a success. It establishes that it is a very tough dog-eat-dog world, but at the same time, there can still be very joyous and happy moments. And it doesn't shy away from either of them. When tough, really depressing stuff happens, it acknowledges it. But when really happy, upbeat stuff happens, it acknowledges it, too. It never spends too much time with either one. It equals out so well to keep kids entertained, but at the same time, teach them about the sometimes very difficult world without them being afraid of it. When you get to the end message, which is so in your face, it can't possibly be escaped, you really do find that the film all the way from the beginning to the end truly supported it. It's a coming-of-age story that showed, at least for the time it was made, the hardships of life and the joys of life, again, in a G-rated Disney film.
[A scene showing Travis and his mother trying to help an injured Old Yeller is shown, as well as a clip showing Bud Searcy]
Doug (vo): So the graphic stuff isn't too graphic, but once in a while, that kinda makes it even more uncomfortable. When they're stitching up Old Yeller, isn't that just so much more uneasy when you don't see it being done? They really know how to get the point across even if they can't show everything. Plus, I didn't know Mike Fink was in this movie! Holy smokes! I totally would've seen this earlier if I knew that!
[Several clips, mostly focusing on the animals, are shown next]
Doug (vo): Now there is one problem I had with the film. Even though it might be a side note to many, is, how well are these animals being treated? I'm not talking about in the story, I mean, like, the actual making of the film. I don't usually think about that stuff too much, but I'm looking at a lot of this footage and I was kind of uncomfortable with some of it. I mean, the two dogs fighting, okay, that's just roughhousing, no biggie, but a dog going up against a bear? Could they always make sure that nothing dangerous was gonna happen there? Look at the way this kid just tosses this frog and this snake. In fact, why the flying fuck did you give a kid a snake?! I know that kind of snake is not likely to bite, but it's still giving a kid a fucking snake! I mean, maybe they were treated okay and it's just really, really good effects, but, I don't know. You got a dog chasing a rabbit, that's one thing, and then you got them running under a mule, that's another thing, and then you got the mule running off after them. It's just, isn't this some really dangerous shit? I don't know, I could be reading too deep into it and it's years in the past, but it made me feel a little uneasy.
Doug (vo): But, on the whole, the film is, like everybody says, a really freaking good film. It doesn't need to rely on villains or complicated plots, it's just a little slice of life, written with characters that you care about in situations that you want to see them get through. And all the heavy moments and the happy moments never seem out of place, they seem to just melt into each other so naturally. It's emotional, it's effective, it's a damn good movie. I know most of you have seen it, but even if you haven't and you know what's gonna happen in the end, I can assure you, as someone who was in the same situation, it's still definitely worth checking out.
[The film's final scene, showing Travis and his young brother Arliss playing with Old Yeller's son, Young Yeller, is shown]
Chorus: Best doggone dog in the West!