Born Free

Movie review by
Common Sense Media Editors, Common Sense Media
Born Free Movie Poster Image
Compelling classic nature story with some animal violence.
  • PG
  • 1966
  • 95 minutes

Parents say

age 6+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

age 8+
Based on 4 reviews

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We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

Shot on location in and around Kenya, viewers will get to see animals in the wild with predators chasing and killing prey, and see the life of a Kenya game warden in the 1960s. They will also see the pains the Adamsons take in turning a very tame lion into a wild and self-sufficient lion.

Positive Messages

As the title spells out, this movie explores what it means for an animal to be free and living in the wild. It may be more dangerous, but it speaks to an animal's true spirit. It's also a lesson in letting go.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Joy Adamson cares so much about Elsa the lion that she works tirelessly to set her free and make her self-sufficient. Her husband, even while recovering from malaria, continues to help his wife succeed.

Violence & Scariness

The opening scene shows lions devouring a zebra. Other animals are eaten, some are shot at by wardens, including the parents of the orphaned lions. One lion kills a woman; viewers see a lion rush at her cowering figure and then blood running in a river. A beloved pet dies of old age. Elsa the lion nearly starves and is bloodied by other lions. George contracts malaria and has a fit from taking too much medicine. Elephants stampede and a village is shown afterward in ruins.

Sexy Stuff

A kiss.


"Dammit" is uttered once.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A small animal is chastized for drinking alcohol left on a table. Adults drink at meals.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this heartwarming story about returning a tamed lion to the wild doesn't shy away from showing nature as it is. Lions kill and devour animals frequently and are shot and killed by wardens; Elsa the lion causes an elephant stampede, nearly starves, and is roughed up by other lions; and one lion even kills a human, though only blood in a river is shown. Viewers will enjoy both the love Joy Adamson shows Elsa the lion by setting her free and the beautiful views of Kenya and all its wonderful wildlife.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byshashabel9 June 25, 2011


I LOVE THE LIONS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
age 2 off. ages 3-4 iffy. ages 5, 6, 7, 8,9, 10,11, 12, 13, 14, 15,16, 17, and 18 on.
Parent of a 6 and 9-year-old Written byMandM mama December 30, 2010
My six year old says, "I liked the part with the warthog smashing the lion and the lion not doing anything about it."
Kid, 10 years old March 12, 2021

one of the best movies i've ever seen

i love the beginning it's so cool the scene when they go swimming with the lion
Teen, 14 years old Written byLucential August 10, 2018

I named my dog after this movie...

When I was younger, I had a serious obsession with dinosaurs and African Animals. I watched this movie with my parents when I was four, and the violence seemed... Continue reading

What's the story?

Joy Adamson and her husband, George, live in Kenya, where George is a game warden. When a lion is reported to be killing villagers, George tracks and kills it, orphaning three cubs in the process. To Joy's delight, George brings the cubs home. Joy feeds them with bottled formula, taking care of them like they're her own children. Elsa, her favorite lioness, is like a big puppy, and goes everywhere with Joy, riding on top of her jeep like the Queen of the Jungle. When the lion cubs are full-grown, they have to be sent to a zoo. Joy tries to keep Elsa as a pet until she causes an elephant stampede. Rather than send Elsa to a zoo, she trains her to live in the wild. Un-domesticating Elsa is difficult, but the Adamsons succeed. Once free, Elsa comes back to visit periodically, bringing her own cubs along.

Is it any good?

Joy Adamson's bestselling book, Born Free, spawned several films and a TV series; this one is the first, and best, of the bunch. Adamson's relationship with Elsa the lioness is captivating from start to finish, and the question of whether a domesticated animal can be returned to the wild is compelling. When the Adamsons first meet young Elsa and her siblings, they're irresistibly big-eyed bundles of fluff. But the adult Elsa is a different kind of beast -- headstrong and stubborn. Growing up underfoot in the Adamson household, Elsa is treated like an overgrown house-pet, and she's often quite funny.

BORN FREE feels authentic; the relationship between Joy and Elsa is developed so well that the film often feels like a documentary. Other scenes of animals in their habitats are thrilling. Although the elephant stampede is a little scary, it's followed by a lighthearted sequence featuring Elsa herding an adorable baby elephant. A 9-year-old viewer was initially reluctant to watch, claiming he didn't like "old" movies, but after one glimpse of the cubs he was hooked. It's hard to watch Joy return Elsa to the wild -- as viewers, we grow as almost attached to the lion as Joy is.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about human responsibility to nature. What makes us good stewards of the Earth? How do we care for the animals and plants around us?

  • Families can also talk about their favorite nature stories. What makes a movie about animals good? Is it the far-flung places you get to visit or the up-close looks into animal nature or something else entirely?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love animals

Character Strengths

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Themes & Topics

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