Legacy Content

Toon Talk: Old Yeller Vault Disney 2-Disc DVD
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by Kirby C. Holt (archives)
June 13, 2002
Kirby reviews the recent DVD release from the Vault Disney series Old Yeller.

Toon Talk
Disney Film & Video Reviews by Kirby C. Holt

DVD.jpg (19907 bytes)
(c) Disney

Vault Disney Collection
Old Yeller 2-Disc DVD Set
Hey Now, You’re a Dog Star

“Old Yeller was a mongrel,
An ugly lop-eared mongrel,
Fancy free without a family tree.
He could up and do it,
And prove there’s nothin’ to it,
And that’s how a good dog should be.”

The LaughingPlace Store

Old Yeller
2-Disc DVD
Standard VHS

Walt Disney loved dogs. Just take a gander at his filmography to see how much he took a shine to canines: Lady and the Tramp, The Shaggy Dog, 101 Dalmatians, Greyfriars Bobby, Big Red, The Ugly Dachshund, not to mention two of his biggest stars, Pluto and Goofy. (In contrast, he hated cats; note that the first film to prominently feature sympathetic felines was the first animated film made after his death, The Aristocats.) But it took Walt’s collaboration with an equally talented dog lover to produce what would become one of the most beloved dog movies of all time, Old Yeller.

Fred Gipson, a well-known writer of Western novels, turned to the tales his grandparents told him about frontier dogs as the inspiration for his book Old Yeller. When Walt first read the book, he knew that it would be a perfect fit for his newly launched live action slate, even with that controversial ending (hereby dubbed the scene). Nevertheless, Walt didn’t shy away from what made the book so realistic and popular in the first place, and the result was one of the most dramatic and emotionally satisfying films he ever made.

In this 'shaggy dog story' of an ol’ yeller mutt who steals his way into a Texas family’s home and hearts, great care was taken in the recreation of the Coates’ little corner of the Lone Star state. And the cast of only (surprisingly, for some reason) seven actors could not have been more perfectly chosen, most notably Tommy Kirk (Travis Coates, his first starring role), Dorothy McGuire (luminous as mother Katie) and scene-stealer extraordinaire Jeff York (the rascally Bud Searcy). Under the deft hand of a soft-spoken Englishman, director Robert Stevenson, Old Yeller shows us something most other Westerns leave to the imagination, namely what happens back home when the men folk go off trailblazing. The fact that it is just as compelling as any John Ford shoot ’em up epic is due to its universal themes of survival, loyalty and most of all, love.

And who could not love such a leading man as the irresistible Yeller. Face it, this dog could act. And, as it is revealed in this special Vault Disney DVD set (and, as I have gone through them, it is obvious how very special these Vault Disney editions truly are), he did it all without a stunt double, coming from humble dog pound beginnings to become the star of a movie where he had the best dressing room.

In a recent poll of movie fans, Yeller came in second only to Lassie as favorite dog star, impressive considering that, unlike his competition, he appeared in only this film. Yes, he truly is ‘the best doggone dog in the world’.

Disc 1 Bonus Features:

Special note should be made of the cool 360-degree film montage menu, perfectly showcasing this movie with digital technology while not overwhelming its integrity.

Animated Short: In one of his best shorts, Bone Trouble (1940), Pluto attempts to steal a tasty bone from the bulldog next door, leading a merry chase that ends up in a carnival fun house. Lots of cute site gags as Pluto plays among the mirrors, which distort his image into various shapes and sizes. As is on ample display here, Pluto is always best (and funniest) when he plays the hapless hero.

Audio Commentary: Provided by actors Tommy Kirk, Fess Parker (father Jim Coates) and Kevin Corcoran (hyperactive Arliss Coates) and animal trainer Bob Weatherwax (son/nephew of Yeller’s trainers Frank and Rudd Weatherwax).

As with the Swiss Family Robinson commentary, this track is actually a combination of three separate ones. Parker and Corcoran were recorded separately, so the conversation between Kirk and Weatherwax stands out as the most informative and listenable. Schedules may not permit it, but it is apparent that the best commentaries are made when all the participants are in a room together, reminiscing about the film at hand.

The Top Ten Things We Learn From This Commentary:

  1. Make-up!, Part 1: Parker’s moustache in the film was fake.
  2. Corcoran remembers that his favorite part about making Yeller was that he never had to wear shoes.
  3. Kirk, a native Kentuckian, imitated his mother’s drawl as part of his Texas accent for this role.
  4. Kirk confesses that as a child, he had a speech impediment when speaking his ‘Ls’, which caused him trouble on this film when it came time to say the title character’s name.
  5. Movie Magic: All of the interior scenes of the Coates’ cabin were shot on a soundstage at the Disney Studios.
  6. Famed movie stuntman Yakima Canutt was a second unit director on Old Yeller.
  7. Jeff York played Li’l Abner on Broadway.
  8. From the ‘It Could Have Been Worse’ Department: One of the many harsher aspects dropped from the story in its adaptation from page to screen included a scene where Travis neuters baby pigs.
  9. Visitors to the set included Walt himself and many, many tarantulas.
  10. Make-up!, Part 2: The wolf was actually a trained husky dyed to look like a wolf.
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