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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
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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?
- In theaters: June 22, 1966
- On DVD or streaming: January 21, 1997
- Cast: Bill Travers, Geoffrey Keen, Virginia McKenna
- Director: James Hill
- Studio: Columbia Tristar
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Science and Nature, Wild Animals
- Character Strengths: Compassion, Perseverance
- Run time: 95 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some wild animal action and brief language
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.