It’s the late 1860s in Texas, where Katie (Dorothy McGuire) and Jim Coates (Fess Parker) run a family farm with their sons, Travis (Tommy Kirk) and Arliss (Kevin Corcoran). When Jim leaves for Kansas to trade cattle, 15-year-old Travis becomes ‘the man of the house’. He works the cornfield, hunts and manages other chores around the farm.
One day while working the field, Travis encounters a cheeky stray dog, whom he names Old Yeller. At first Travis doesn’t trust Old Yeller, but his younger brother Arliss has been yearning for a pet dog. He convinces Travis and Katie that Old Yeller might be a useful watch dog. Before long, Old Yeller proves himself and even saves Arliss’s and Travis’s lives several times.
Just when the family can’t imagine life without Old Yeller, the dog is attacked by a rabid wolf and the family is confronted with a heartbreaking decision.
Early American settlers; adventure; tearjerker; coming of age; family; animals and nature; responsibility; friendship; courage
Old Yeller has some violence. For example:
- Travis suggests that Arliss deserves ‘a thrashing’.
- Travis and Arliss get into a fight. They throw rocks at each other.
Ideas to discuss with your children
Old Yeller is an award-winning Disney classic full of valuable life lessons. It also gives a fascinating insight into the everyday and family lives of American settlers. The story confronts the sad, dark and scary aspects of the settler experience but emphasises the importance of overcoming challenges and growing as a result. And despite the sadness of Travis euthanising his beloved dog, the movie still ends on a positive and hopeful note.
Some scenes and parts of the story are likely to be too intense for young viewers. We recommend parental guidance for these scary and very sad scenes. Parental guidance might also help children to understand the story’s historical context.
The main messages from this movie are that sad, scary and challenging times are part of life. But when we’re confronted with these experiences, we can stay positive, learn from them and grow.
Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include friendship, love responsibility and courage. The movie also emphasises the importance of growing from challenges, making difficult choices, accepting that loss, grief, and sadness are parts of life and looking for the positives.
This movie could also give you the chance to talk with your children about understanding how society, culture and family life changes through time. You could look at:
- how children grew up differently in the 1860s back then
- what kinds of responsibilities and challenges children and parents faced then compared with today
- which values stay consistent through time.