Old Yeller (1957)

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Released 16-Mar-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Family Main Menu Audio & Animation
Featurette-Old Yeller - Remembering A Classic (36:05)
Featurette-Dogs! (1:24)
Featurette-1957 Disney Studio Album (3:23)
Gallery-Production Stills
Screenplay
Gallery-Production Gallery (2:34)
Theatrical Trailer-1.33:1, not 16x9 enhanced, Dolby Digital 2.0 (1:32)
TV Spots-1.33:1, not 16x9 enhanced, Dolby Digital 2.0 (0:32)
Featurette-Foley Demonstration (2:10)
Gallery-Lobby Cards, Posters, Merchandise
Gallery-Fan Letters, Invitations, Press Book
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1957
Running Time 80:29
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (59:59) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Robert Stevenson
Studio
Distributor

Walt Disney Studios Home Ent.
Starring Dorothy McGuire
Fess Parker
Chuck Connors
Jeff York
Beverly Washburn
Tommy Kirk
Kevin Corcoran
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $19.95 Music Oliver Wallace


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.75:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.75:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Spanish
Swedish
Norwegian
Danish
Finnish
Portuguese
Spanish Titling
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

††† Okay, I am man enough to admit it - I cried when old Yeller was shot. Have done for years, probably always will have a tear in my eye over it.

††† And whilst that is perhaps the reason why most remember the film so strongly, it is not the reason why the film has become an endearing classic for generation after generation. With the sole exception of that almost-anything-but-happy ending, this is almost the quintessential Disney family film with all the (admittedly smaller than usual) dollops of sugar and unsubtle messages they could muster. Please do not take this to be any indication of a lack of worth in the film, but simply an indication that those "essential" elements of the Disney raison d'Ítre had to start somewhere and this is one of those films that really showed up the full weight of those elements.

††† Set in Texas in the 1860's, Jim Coates (Fess Parker) sets off on a long trip to sell some of the cattle the family have raised on their farm. This essential trip means, however, that he must leave behind his wife Katie (Dorothy McGuire) and his two young sons, Travis (Tommy Kirk) and Arliss (Kevin Corcoran). The young Travis becomes the man of the house and so has to look after his mother, younger brother as well as the farm. One day a big yellow dog turns up on the farm and raises some mischief through food stealing and property damage. Travis doesn't like the dog much but young Arliss soon forms a strong attachment to the old mongrel and so he gets to stay around the farm. Given the name Yeller thanks to his colour, he soon proves his worth as a protector as well as a friend. After saving Arliss' life when the youngster gets between a bear and her cub, Travis takes him out tracking whereupon Yeller promptly saves Travis' bacon when the hogs get a little too wild. Both are hurt in the process but are soon back to full health thanks to the ministrations of Katie - even overcoming the spectre of rabies that is so common amongst the local fauna. However, things really get bad when a wolf turns up on the farm and once again old Yeller intercedes to save Katie and young neighbour Elizabeth Searcy (Beverly Washburn). In the process, however, he is badly wounded and with the spectre of rabies looming again, he is locked up by the family in the hope that he does not develop the disease. When it becomes obvious that he has contracted rabies, the family has no option but to shoot old Yeller, and the poor bugger that has to do it is Travis who has become closer than anyone to the mongrel.

††† Stories do not become beloved across many generations unless there is some timeless quality to them. Old Yeller certainly has that quality and even though set in the 1860's, the story still resonates with a large deal of truth today, most especially regarding the fundamental that sometimes you just got to do what you got to do, even if you don't like what you got to do. In one of the rare instances in Disney history, the film remains very faithful to the original novel - not surprising I suppose since the screenplay was at least partially written by Fred Gipson - even to the extent of the ending of the film, which is wholly atypical of Disney. With a surprisingly small cast (seven people in all), the focus never wanders away from where it needs to be and the cast do a sterling job. Well known Disney names Fess Parker (Davy Crockett, King Of The Wild Frontier), Dorothy McGuire, Tommy Kirk and Kevin Corcoran (all later to appear in Swiss Family Robinson) became well known Disney names not because they were nice people (which they obviously were judging by the extras) but because they were quality actors who did the job well. Director Robert Stevenson made more than a few Disney films too, simply because he was a good director who did the job well.

††† Whilst the passage of time has certainly diminished the value of the novel somewhat, as it unfortunately has for many a classic novel in these times when reading seems to be a forgotten pastime amongst the young and not so young, it would be difficult to say the film has been equally as affected. It is interesting to see in the extras the impact the film still has on those people who are most familiar with it. No matter how many times I see the film, and although not a common film for me to watch it certainly has been seen a few times, it still affects me. In the final analysis, the fact that forty-odd years later it can still affect people on a strong emotional level is a true indication of just how good the film is and how well made it was. Amongst the extensive Disney lexicon of live action films, there are very few that are this affecting.

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Transfer Quality

Video

††† Despite the beloved nature of the film, Disney have not bothered to give the film a full restoration and so what we are given here does show its age somewhat. Given the inconsistent nature of the approach to restoration, I can only presume that Disney are awaiting the commercial advent of HD-DVD before committing all their films to the restoration process.

††† The transfer is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.75:1, and it is 16x9 enhanced. Ever-so-slight black bars on either side of the picture are all that give this away as not being a full 1.78:1 aspect ratio.

††† Most of what ails this transfer can be boiled down to age. The big issue is grain and this is quite prevalent throughout the film, most especially during exterior shots. Whilst never becoming hideous to look at, the sheer consistency of the grain does detract somewhat from the overall presentation. The grain does impinge somewhat upon the clarity of the transfer. It also robs the transfer of a degree of sharpness and this ends up being just a little on the soft side at times, hiding just a little of the detail. Shadow detail is little better than average, although there are times when it really is not as good as it needs to be - such as at 13:00. Given the unrestored nature of the source material, I suppose we cannot expect much better than we have here but this certainly can be classified as slightly disappointing.

††† The colours are sort of consistent with the transfer in that they are a little variable and thanks to the unrestored material are not as bright and as vibrant as I would have expected. There are some places, such as during the opening credits, where there is a quite distinct flat, muted look to the colours that contrasts markedly with other portions of the film that at least are well saturated. Overall, though, this would have to be considered an undersaturated transfer rather than a well saturated effort. There are no obvious issues with colour bleed.

††† There is nothing really obvious in the way of MPEG artefacts in the transfer, as I am guessing the slight resolution issues in camera movement is a reflection of the source material rather than mastering issues. There is little in the way of film-to-video artefacts, with just the odd indication of shimmer to be found. Whilst film artefacts were certainly present in the transfer, they were not really that bad and rarely drew attention to themselves. The odd scratch mark was about the only really obvious artefact to be seen.

††† This is an RSDL formatted DVD with the layer change coming at 59:59. It is a good one inasmuch as I again completely failed to notice it - not really unexpected though as this is in a black scene change.

††† There are a reasonable selection of subtitles on the DVD. The English efforts are very good with hardly any variation from the actual dialogue.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

††† There are two soundtracks on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 5.1 effort and a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 effort. Whilst we actually gain a soundtrack over the Region 1 release, it is a great shame that it is not the original mono soundtrack.

††† Dialogue comes up pretty well in the transfer and is fairly easy to understand, even with the drawls being a little over the top at times. There did not appear to be any significant issue with audio sync in the transfer.

††† The original music score comes from Oliver Wallace, and a decent effort it is. True, it gets a little too much "by the book" at times, but in 1957 they probably had not written the whole book so he can hardly be blamed.

††† The six channel sound is used fairly well, even if there is not a great deal of body to some of the dialogue. The music has certainly been given an impressive boost at times and much of the bass activity really is provided by the music and little else. Rear surround channel use is pretty much restricted to ambience, with the front surrounds being used to flesh out the body a little. I can't help but feel that the sound ends up a little too congested at times, which might well be the result of not using a full bitrate soundtrack. There is some evidence of hiss and other background blemishes at times but nothing that would really be too noticeable at normal listening levels.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

††† Well, whoop-de-do! If you care to wander down to the R4 vs R1 comparison, you will understand why indifference rules here. In addition, there are some serious glitches in the mastering of the extras, which results in some weird stuff - at least on my player:

††† I have seen some garbage commands at times as a result of hitting buttons on the remote controller, but it has been a long while since I have encountered this sort of garbage. On top of this, at times menu selections are extremely slow to react even by the slow and clunky standards we expect from Buena Vista Home Entertainment discs.

Menu

††† Acceptable enough even if the animation enhancement is rather lacklustre.

Featurette - Old Yeller: Remembering A Classic (36:05)

††† A retrospective look at the film mainly through interview material with the surviving cast - Fess Parker, Tommy Kirk, Kevin Corcoran and Beverly Washburn - along with Bob Weatherwax (son of the animal trainer who handled Spike - the dog that played Old Yeller), Roy E. Disney and T. Beck Gipson (son of Fred Gipson who wrote the original and much beloved novel). Toss in some archive footage of Dorothy McGuire talking about the film and a bunch of other stuff and this is a real amiable wander down memory lane. Like all the extras, it is presented in a Full Frame format that is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with decent Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. In this instance there are selectable Spanish subtitles, the only extra that seems to have them. Technically it is only let down by some aliasing in some of the archival material - mainly photographs.

Featurette - Dogs! (1:24)

††† In the same vein as the Pirates! featurette we saw on Swiss Family Robinson, this one obviously looks at the prominent dogs that have hounded the Disney output since its inception. Obviously some of the material is rather aged and so the ropey quality at times is excused. The lack of any value in the material is hardly to be excused though.

Featurette - 1957 Disney Studio Album (3:23)

††† Also in the same vein as what we found on Swiss Family Robinson, this gives a rundown of the projects undertaken at the Disney studios during the year of 1957. Some of the stuff is hardly remembered now (and by the look of it forgettable in 1957).

Gallery - Production Stills

††† A collection of 54 photographs, mainly colour, taken during the making of the film.

Gallery - Screenplay

††† Thirteen pages extracted from the script, during which you can select the film reel in order to see the actual piece of the film that you have just read. Not exactly enthralling stuff but it is something. The glitch that afflicts the presentation is noted above.

Gallery - Production Gallery (2:34)

††† A self running collection of photographs taken during the production. The glitch that affects the presentation is noted above.

Theatrical Trailer and TV Spots (2:04)

††† It starts with the TV spot (0:32), which is an advert for the film on "next week" - presumably it is the Disney Channel Movie of the Week or something similar. Immediately following is the theatrical trailer (1:32), following which you get the TV spot again. Both are presented in a Full Frame format that is not 16x9 enhanced and with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Technically the quality is okay with the TV spot being much better, as the theatrical trailer suffers a little from some lacklustre colour.

Gallery - Lobby Cards

††† A set of eight cards in colour with a black and white header card.

Gallery - Posters

††† A staggeringly large collection of 2 posters.

Gallery - Merchandise

††† A collection of five images showing record covers and the like.

Gallery - Fan Letters

††† A selection of 12 letters from the myriad that the late Fred Gipson still receives to this very day from kids all over the place.

Gallery - Invitations

††† A selection of 3 images of an invitation to a press screening of the film.

Gallery - Press Book

††† A selection of 15 images taken from a campaign book provided to exhibitors for the promotion of the film.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

††† From the moment I saw the specifications for the Region 4 DVD, I knew that there was never going to be a chance in hell that I would be able to recommend the Region 4 release. There was no chance that it could be recommended even if it came made on a disc of gold and there was a fifty buck note stuffed into the front cover. Just so that you can be utterly depressed, the Region 1 release comes with the following extras not available on the Region 4 release:

††† I have over the near five years I have been reviewing for this site reviewed many pathetic excuses for DVD releases in Region 4. I have seen some utter travesties foisted upon Region 4 too. Okay, we did gain a soundtrack over the Region 1 release but really I completely fail to understand why it is thought acceptable to issue a two disc set in Region 1 loaded to the gunwales with extras and then think it acceptable to treat Region 4 inhabitants with disdain by issuing a single disc option missing many of the best extras. I am no great fan of extras, as regular readers will well know, but when you see such a vast gulf between Region 1 and Region 4 it is extremely difficult to limit the extent of the vitriol that should deservedly be thrown at Buena Vista Home Entertainment.

††† Pathetic? Nowhere near strong enough. Disgusting? Nowhere near accurate enough. Avoidable? Well, duh! This is so short-changing a release that not only should it be avoided but we should in this instance be burning the bloody Region 4 DVDs in the streets - as a sign of the strongest possible protest.

Summary

††† Well this was pretty easy. If you really love this old classic, buy the Region 1 release unless you simply cannot play Region 1 DVDs. Judicious purchasing online should see the cost ending up not much more that the Australian RPI so the only additional cost is the shipping. If that costs you AUD15, you are still miles in front in comparison to the Region 4 release. If you want to populate your DVD collection with examples of the utter garbage, in terms of DVD packages, foisted upon Region 4 then go right ahead and buy this pathetic-in-comparison Region 4 release. The technical quality certainly sounds no worse than the Region 1 release. What should have been a stellar release ends up being an avoidable one thanks to Buena Vista Home Entertainment's contempt for the Region 4 inhabitant. One of the world's most beloved children's stories was turned into one of the world's most beloved family films of all time - and then tossed out on one of the most unlovable DVD packages imaginable.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Tuesday, April 20, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-1600, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Aconda 9381ZW. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
I think we got the muck around version - Geoff (read my bio)
re: Geoff's ordering R1 discs - Byron Kolln (HELLO FOOLS! Read my Bio!)
Re: Minotaur - Tom G
Absolutely Disgraceful - Steven Cameron (read my bio)
Shame and Disgust -
Re: re: Minotaur -
RE: Re: re: Minotaur OR Gutless Anonymous - Dark Lord (Bio? We don't need no stinkin' bio!)
Wow! Region 4 screwed again! -
If only you knew.... -
And as for you Anonymous.... -
Another slap in the face from Buena Vista - Byron Kolln (HELLO FOOLS! Read my Bio!)
Another reason to remove region codes -
Another reason to remove region codes -
Re: Another reason to remove region codes -
Region codes are a good thing... -