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|Kevin Krock, editor|
Disney has created a new category for it’s DVD distribution titled “Disney’s Literary Collection.” A Wrinkle in Time, Eloise at Christmastime and The Young Black Stallion are being released under this banner. Where the Red Fern Grows, another recent release, has a distinguished literary pedigree being the fifth best-selling children’s book of all time. It is required reading in numerous elementary and middle schools, and more than 40 million have read the book since it’s first publication in 1961. The book was previously adapted into a film in 1974. This film version was plagued by financial problems and was never released on the big screen aside from a few film festival showings. It languished on the shelf until Disney picked it up to distribute.
The story follows a young boy named Billy Coleman (Joseph Ashton) who wants more than anything in the world to own a pair of hunting dogs. Through hard work he saves enough to order a pair of Redbone Coon Hound puppies. Billy and the dogs become inseparable and though a series of adventures and tragedies learns lessons about loyalty, sportsmanship and integrity.
The movie does a good job of covering all the main points of the book, but the tone and look of the movie do not match the novel. For some, this may be a good thing. The book, Where the Red Fern Grows, has some brutal moments; a child is killed in a gruesome accident, a mountain lion mauls a beloved pet, many raccoons are skinned. The book is a notorious tearjerker. The movie still recounts the difficult moments, but in a quick, sanitized way. Not much blood, not a lot of suspense, and a focus on the upbeat aspects of the story. For others, the sunny treatment of the story will take the heart right out of the tough lessons Billy Coleman learns.
The main boasting point Where the Red Fern Grows has is the fact that musician Dave Matthews makes his film debut in the role of Billy’s father Will Coleman. Although I kept waiting for him to “happen” to pick up a guitar and hum a few bars, he played the role true to the book, and did a nice, understated job. The word that comes to mind is “natural.” He looks right at home on the (albeit) small screen.
The DVD includes only two featurettes: “Lights! Camera! Animals!” and “The Roots of a Classic.” In the first segment, star Joseph Ashton, now grown into a husky teenager, introduces the film’s animal trainers and the array of dogs, raccoons and cougars used in the movie. They are careful to explain that the cougar was actually mauling a big stuffed dog, and that no raccoons were harmed in the filming.
“The Roots of a Classic” is an interesting look at the author, Wilson Rawls. Interviews with his wife, Sophie Rawls, explain the books painstaking beginnings, serial publishing in the Saturday Evening Post, and eventual world-wide recognition and popularity.
Video, Audio and Interface
The audio is a bit uneven in content rather than sound quality. The filmmakers chose a more modern orchestral score that clashes with the supposedly rural Oklahoma location. The also included recent songs by Wynonna and Alison Krauss in the soundtrack and quite a bit of narration by Kris Kristofferson; all of which take away from the atmosphere of the movie. Quality-wise the audio is clean and crisp.
The film looks very bright and clean. Almost too perfect, in fact. It is the filmmaker’s idealized version of the poor, rural Oklahoma Wilson Rawls describes. However, I did appreciate the views of the woods and creeks on location. The transfer is very sharp and well suited to the small screen.
The interface is simple and workmanlike; merely one menu on a rural background with score from the film. Since there are so few extra features even the very young remote user will be able to navigate.
The Final Evaluation
This is a good, not great, children’s movie. For someone who has never read Where the Red Fern Grows, it will be an entertaining way to pass eighty five minutes, if for no other reason than to see Dave Matthews in overalls with one strap. It is certainly worth a rental if your children enjoy animal movies. If the filmmakers had been more faithful to the tone of Rawls’ novel, it could have been much better than good. It could have been a classic just as the book continues to be.
Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Lisa here.
Kevin Doc Krock is been a long-time animation buff and home theater fan. He's been following the rise of the DVD format in the home market since its introduction, and he hopes to help you make the most of your family's home theater viewing time and video collections.
You can contact Kevin here.
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