Old Yeller is a 1957 American drama film produced by Walt Disney. It stars Tommy Kirk, Dorothy McGuire, Fess Parker, and Beverly Washburn. It is about a boy and a stray dog in post-Civil War Texas. The film is based upon the 1956 Newbery Honor-winning book of the same name by Fred Gipson. Gipson also cowrote the screenplay with William Tunberg. The success of the Old Yeller film led to a sequel, Savage Sam, which was also based on a book by Gipson.
A teenage boy grows to love a stray yellow dog while helping his mother and younger brother run their Texas homestead while their father is away on a cattle drive. First thought to be good-for-nothing mutt, Old Yeller is soon beloved by all.
Why It Rocks
- All of the actors performances in this movie are spot-on and amazing, especially from Tommy Kirk who play’s the sympathetic main character, Travis Coates and Kevin Corcoran who play’s his younger brother, Arliss.
- The cinematography and camerawork are very nice and pretty impressive for the 1950s.
- One of the very few times Disney (in the earlier times) stepped away from things like fantasy and magical adventures and decided to take a more realistic path with this film.
- It stay’s very loyal to the source material and captures the heartwarming tone the book it was based on had.
- The dialogue‘s pretty decent and well-said by the actors.
- Likable and relatable characters, especially the main protagonist, Travis Coates, who shares an amazing bond with his pet dog, Old Yeller.
- Many unforgettable moments that are either serious and/or funny, such as the scene where Old Yeller fights off the rabies-diagnosed wolf to protect the others.
- The film doesn’t rely on one main antagonist but deals with many conflicts throughout the movie, like the aforementioned wolf that nearly attacked Travis’ mother and Lisebeth.
- The scene where Travis is forced to shoot a rabid Old Yeller in order to put him out of his pain and misery is incredibly heartbreaking.
Bosley Crowther in the December 26, 1957 New York Timespraised the film's performers and called the film "a nice little family picture" that was a "lean and sensible screen transcription of Fred Gipson's children's book." He said that the film was a "warm, appealing little rustic tale [that] unfolds in lovely color photography. Sentimental, yes, but also sturdy as a hickory stick."
The movie went on to become an important cultural film for baby boomers, with Old Yeller's death in particular being remembered as one of the most tearful scenes in cinematic history. It currently has a rating of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. One critic cited it as "among the best, if not THE best" of the boy-and-his-dog films. Critic Jeff Walls wrote: "Old Yeller, like The Wizard of Oz and Star Wars, has come to be more than just a movie; it has become a part of our culture. If you were to walk around asking random people, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who did not know the story of Old Yeller, some who didn’t enjoy it or someone who didn’t cry. The movie’s ending has become as famous as any other in film history."
The film was re-released in 1965 and earned an estimated $2 million in North American rentals.