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Walt Disney Home Video presents
Old Yeller: Two-Movie Collection (Old Yeller / Savage Sam) (1957/1963)

"I never saw such a dog."
- Katie Coates (Dorothy McGuire)

Review By: Nate Meyers  
Published: November 28, 2005

Stars: Tommy Kirk, Kevin Corcoran
Other Stars: Dorothy McGuire, Fess Parker, Jeff York, Chuck Connors, Beverly Washburn, Brian Keith, Dewey Martin, Marta Kristen, Rafael Campos, Slim Pickens, Rodolfo Acosta, Pat Hogan, Dean Fredericks, Brad Weston
Director: Robert Stevenson, Norman Taylor

MPAA Rating: G for (nothing objectionable in Old Yeller; violence in Savage Sam)
Run Time: 03h:07m:18s
Release Date: November 15, 2005
UPC: 786936283945
Genre: family

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ BB-B- B+

DVD Review

Fred Gipson's novel Old Yeller is a literary milestone in a child's life. Like The Yearling and Where the Red Fern Grows, its simple prose is perfect for kids and the theme of a young boy becoming a man through the loss of a beloved pet is one-part timeless, three-parts heartbreak. As a little boy, hardly anything in life dealt as emotionally a powerful blow to me as Walt Disney's adaptation of Gipson's award- winning novel.

"I got me a dog. Old Yeller." -Travis Coates

Old Yeller

In Texas hill country, the Coates family lives a simple life in post-Civil War America. Their farm is coming along nicely, but without actual currency Jim (Fess Parker) and Katie (Dorothy McGuire) cannot fully support their young boys. At the beginning of summer, Jim leaves to sell his cattle and embarks on a four-month journey, leaving older son Travis (Tommy Kirk) as "the man of the house." Now Travis learns the responsibilities of heading the household, as he plows the field and hunts for food. Yet, at every turn he seems foiled by a broad-shouldered stray dog. The yellow lab ruins their fence, chases the family mule away, and even steals their meat. Most importantly, however, the strapping pup steals younger brother Arliss' (Kevin Corcoran) heart. Travis mistrusts the lab, but mom's calm demeanor sways him into letting Arliss keep the dog as a pet.

Soon enough, it turns out that Katie's advice is priceless. The aptly named dog, Old Yeller, saves Arliss from a bear attack, fends of raccoons, and becomes a family hero. Just as Travis starts to embrace Yeller as a friend, however, a tall stranger arrives on the family farm (Chuck Connors) and warns the family about an outbreak of rabies. Anybody who knows the formula at work in Gipson's story can already tell what will happen. Sure enough, by film's end there won't be a dry eye in the house. When first viewing Old Yeller as a boy, I sobbed so hard that I practically drowned myself. Now, umpteen years later, the film's third act still brings tears to my eyes. Robert Stevenson's direction is so elegant in its simplicity that, while watching it, all audience members view the movie from a child's point-of-view. As a result, we undergo the process of becoming an adult alongside Travis.

Stevenson's handling of the material puts the emphasis on the characters. There are some scenic shots of vast landscapes, but the cameras mainly focus in on the family and their lovable pet. The human/canine drama here is touching, with the actors occupying their roles assuredly. Tommy Kirk plays the anxious Travis well, presenting a believable performance of a boy who is torn between becoming a man and holding onto his childhood innocence. While Kevin Corcoran's portrayal of Arliss may be a bit overbearing in some scenes, he does a nice job of playing a younger sibling who undermines his brother's authority. However, the real star of this movie is Old Yeller. Played by Spike, the dog and his trainers create on of the most endearing Disney characters to date.

From the memorable score to the well realized sets, Old Yeller still packs an emotionally charged wallop nearly 50 years after its original release. Stevenson's elegant direction, Gipson's simple prose, and the believable acting make it a wholesome, wonderful classic for families.

Style Grade: B+Substance Grade: B+

"Sam, you thievin' rascal!" -Arliss Coates

Savage Sam

Although technically a sequel to Old Yeller, this 1963 follow-up is very loosely connected to the original story. Tommy Kirk and Kevin Corcoran reprise their roles as Travis and Arliss Coates, but this time they are left on the farm all alone. Now in his adolescence, Arliss is even more cantankerous and devotes nearly all of his energy to throwing rocks at Travis. Meanwhile, the experiences of the earlier story have turned Travis into a mature, hardworking man as he struggles to milk the cows, clear the brush, and keep his brother in line. Aided by the occasional appearance of Uncle Beck (Brian Keith), Travis keeps things running relatively smoothly until neighbor Mr. Searcy (Jeff York) and comely daughter Lisbeth (Marta Kristen) come to alert the boys that Indians are beginning a raid and nobody's safe. It just so happens that Arliss and his dog, Savage Sam, are off hunting a cougar at that very moment and Travis must round them up before it's too late.

Not surprisingly, when Travis and Lisbeth find Arliss, the approaching tribe also engulfs them. Taken prisoner, the three kids must risk life and limb to escape and find their way home as Uncle Beck leads a party to rescue the kidnapped children. If this is beginning to sound more like The Searchers than a Disney movie to you, you're partially right. There's a surprisingly large amount of gunplay and violence here for a family film, but it is also non-graphic and relatively harmless. My chief complaint is the absence of Sam. Despite having the title role, the hound dog is barely in the film and serves more as a prop than anything else (it seems the only reason he's in the film at all is to help Beck track the tribe). However, there's a nice sense of adventure in the movie and it makes for an enjoyable outing. Told with solid special effects and a rousing musical score, Savage Sam is the perfect movie for young boys.

The budding romance between Travis and Lisbeth, a carry-over from the first movie, is not entirely convincing, but the chase scenes move along at a brisk pace. The comedic banter between Searcy and Willy Crup (Slim Pickens) is humorous, lightening the film's tone in what could easily become far too serious a subject matter for children. Kirk and Corcoran both continue their solid work, but Brian Keith is the strongest actor here. Perhaps his role belongs in a Howard Hawks western as opposed to a Disney movie, but Keith represents a positive, ethical role model for boys as he plays the rugged individualist with great charm.

This is not a family film in the mold of Old Yeller, but taken on its own terms, Savage Sam is a thoroughly enjoyable movie.

Style Grade: B+Substance Grade: B-

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.75:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: Old Yeller is shown in its original aspect ratio of 1.75:1 and looks nice. It seems that this is the exact same transfer Disney used in their previous DVD release of the film. Colors are vibrant, detail is good, and contrast is respectable. However, Savage Sam is shown in 1.33:1 pan-and-scan. The picture looks fine, with good detail and a nice sense of depth, but the abandonment of its OAR is unfortunate.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
English, French, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mixes on both movies are extremely front heavy. The score comes through in the rear-channels, but if there's any sound separation and directionality, I failed to notice it. Dialogue is clear and the audio is largely clean, but the mixes are far from dynamic. Both films also contain a Spanish 5.1 mix, but only Old Yeller has a French 5.1 mix.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 26 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Lady and the Tramp: 2-Disc Special Edition, Valiant, Toy Story 2: 2-Disc Special Edition
1 TV Spots/Teasers
2 Documentaries
5 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray Double
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Movie Surfers—a pair of exclusive sneak peek looks at upcoming Disney theatrical releases, from The Disney Channel.
  2. Bone Trouble—an animated short, featuring Pluto.
  3. Conversations with Tommy Kirk—a video interview with the actor chronicling his career with Walt Disney Studios.
  4. Galleries—various galleries of production stills, documents, fan letters, advertising material, and more.
  5. Audio Archives—a look at the movie's sound mixing process and a radio program of the story.
Extras Review: The bulk of the special features can be found on the second disc, but Disc 1 contains previews for Lady and the Tramp: Special Edition, Valiant, and Toy Story 2: Special Edition. Furthermore, the first disc sports Movie Surfers, a special sneak peek feature from The Disney Channel of the upcoming theatrical releases of Antarctica: The Journey Home and Glory Road. The feature is gimmicky and aimed squarely at children. On Disc 2, there is a collection of the material assembled for Disney's earlier release of Old Yeller (minus the Tommy Kirk/Kevin Corcoran commentary).

Disc 2 begins with the animated 1940 short, Bone Trouble (08m:41s). Starring classic Disney character Pluto, this is a visually clever cartoon of him stealing a bone from another dog and being chased for it. Following that is Old Yeller: Remembering a Classic (36m:02s). This documentary features interviews with all surviving cast members, as well as Roy Disney, Fred Gipson's son, and the son of the man who trained Spike to play Old Yeller. Every aspect of the production is covered here, explaining the book's origins and featuring numerous retellings of stories from the set. Being a dog lover, I was fascinated to hear about how the various scenes of Old Yeller fighting bears and wolves were filmed. Continuing to whet a dog lover's appetite, the next feature is Dogs! (01m:23s), which shows clips of various Disney dogs (real and animated) is adorable.

Next is Lost Treasures (07m:19s), a featurette tour of the impressive Golden Oak Ranch that hosts numerous movie productions every year. The landscape is brilliant and the stories about Disney helping create the preserve are informative. Disney Studio Album (03m:21s) is a highlight reel of the studio's various projects in 1957, the year Old Yeller was made. Mostly, it's an advertisement for other movies available on DVD, but it's nice to see the context of the era in which the film was made. A much richer supplement is Conversations with Tommy Kirk (14m:41s). The video interview chronicles his career at Disney and Kirk proves to be an engaging figure, with many humorous anecdotes about his early career.

Production Gallery (02m:33s) is a slideshow of various stills from the set, all running in tune with the film's theme song, and there are galleries of Production Stills, Publishing (a series of comic strips that highlight scenes from the movie), Fan Letters, Invitations, and stills of the original Pressbook. The Fan Letters are all from children and quite endearing. Furthermore, the cast's biographies and filmographies are also included. There also are galleries of Lobby Cards, Posters, and Merchandise. Continuing on the advertising trend, five radio spots are also included alongside the movie's theatrical trailer and a TV spot.

Next is a featurette, News Segment: Old Yeller Memorial (07m:14s). Texas citizens, including Laura Bush, gather to celebrate Fred Gipson's novel and unveil a statue created in honor of his work. The whole scene is quite emotional for the people involved, clearly demonstrating the story's power. This is followed by a special feature that allows you to read the screenplay for select scenes, such as the film's conclusion, and then view the movie to see how the scene evolves. It's a rather nice way of showing the filmmaking process, just like the Sound Studio feature that lets you navigate between various audio tracks during the bear attack and field-plowing scenes. You can listen to the dialogue, effects, music, or final composite in order to better appreciate the art of sound. Accompanied by Foley Demonstration (02m:09s), which shows how sound effects are created, this is an impressive collection of extras to help inform viewers how complex filmmaking can be.

Additionally, the special features include Story Album (33m:20s). Set to a collection of stills from the film, this is a radio program that mixes Fess Parker's narration of the story with sound bytes from the movie. Rounding out the special features is The Best Doggoned Dog in the World (52m:24s). Hosted by Walt Disney himself, this old TV special takes us through the history of dogs in entertainment, promotes Old Yeller, and has an intriguing section on sheepherders. All in all, this is an impressive collection of special features.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

A nice double feature, this two-film set comes with one of the most heartfelt family films of all time and its entertaining sequel. The extras are a good collection of material, but those who own the prior release of Old Yeller may want to hold onto their current disc since not all supplementals are carried over.


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