No other “boy and his dog” film has ever unleashed a collective waterfall of tears like the classic 1957 Walt Disney production, Old Yeller. Based upon a novel of the same name (written by Fred Gipson), Old Yeller is a touching, coming-of-age story that rarely leaves a dry eye in the house. Let’s take a look back at this memorable film.
Set in Texas just after the Civil War, the Coates family is left to fend for themselves when patriarch Jim leaves the homestead for a three-month stint on a cattle drive. Left in charge is the oldest sibling, Travis (Tommy Kirk,) the new man of the house. When his younger brother Arliss brings home a stray yellow mutt, Travis is none too pleased at first. He lightens up, however, when mom patiently explains that Arliss simply needs a friend.
The entire family soon warms to Old Yeller and the canine proves his worth rather quickly, fending off numerous wild beasts that threaten the farm and even saving Travis from stampeding pigs during a hunt. The boy and his dog quickly become inseparable but there are more dangers lurking on the horizon. When Yeller defends the clan from a crazed wolf, he is injured in the attack and the worst is suspected, then confirmed – Old Yeller has rabies. Travis is forced to learn that along with being the man of the house comes the responsibility of making tough, sometimes heart-wrenching, decisions.
Old Yeller had a everything you could ask for in a film – fine acting, wonderful outdoor cinematography and plenty of down-home charm. It also had a tragic scene that few could ever forget, although the movie has a relatively happy ending. The film would prove to be a major box-office success for Walt Disney and he would quickly realize the money-making potential from making low-budget, live-action films, which could generate the necessary funds for his more expensive animated masterpieces. Tommy Kirk would go on to star in many of these live-action films, including The Shaggy Dog, Swiss Family Robinson, The Misadventures of Merlin Jones and The Absent-Minded Professor.
Kirk would also reprise the role of Travis Coates in Savage Sam, a sequel to Old Yeller. Unfortunately, it was only contained half of the necessary ingredients for a “boy and his dog” film, and sans the big yellow mutt, audiences weren’t much interested. The original, on the other hand, remains a beloved part of childhood for millions of former kids, most of whom will sheepishly admit that, yes, they did indeed cry while watching Old Yeller.
If you have fond memories of this classic Disney film, we welcome you to share your teary-eyed memories with all of us in our comments section.