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My Side of the Mountain (1969)
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that My Side of the Mountain is a 1969 film based on Jean Craighead George's classic novel of the same name about a young boy running away from the city to survive alone in the wilderness. Although the film differs in some ways from the book (it's set in Canada and not New York, and many side characters from the book are consolidated into one in the film), it stays true to the book's adventurous spirit. Although most parents wouldn't relish the idea of their teens running away from home to live off the land, Sam's determination, thirst for knowledge, and ingenuity make him a wonderful role model for kids, and the film's detailed exploration of the natural world may inspire an interest in nature for some viewers. But very young kids may be a bit distressed by the scenes of suspense (Sam scales a treacherous mountain and almost suffocates in his tree home) and (spoiler alert) the accidental death of a beloved animal character.
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What's the story?
Sam (Ted Eccles), a devoted fan of Thoreau and a budding scientist, is angry at his father for canceling a trip to the mountains so he could work on a set of experiments studying algae. Inspired by Thoreau and full of fiery self-reliance, Sam decides to make it on his own and runs away to the wilderness to live off the land for a year and continue his scientific studies. Accompanied by his tame raccoon, Gus, Sam builds a home for himself in a hollow tree and, after a trip into town to glean tips from the librarian (Tudi Wiggins), tames a falcon he names Frightful. But after spending some time with a wandering folk singer, Bando (Theodore Bikel), and facing the harsh reality of a winter living in a tree, Sam starts to question his decision to remain alone and starts to long for the companionship of friends and family.
Is it any good?
Although it can feel a bit dated at times, this quiet, thoughtful film is a lovely celebration of boyhood and nature. Along with the book, the film has inspired a generation of kids to take to the outdoors. Ted Eccles is wonderful as Sam, and kids will love the wily Gus and the faithful Frightful. And after watching Sam fiercely fight for independence and self-reliance in the first half of the film, seeing his relationship with Bando reluctantly bloom is a tender treat.
Unlike modern kid flicks, the pacing of this film is quite slow, with much of the focus placed on small details, a style that some kids may find hard to get into. But those with a budding interest in science or the natural world will be fascinated by the plethora of details given about surviving on the land and may be inspired to take a trip outside.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about living in the wilderness. Do you think you could live in the wilderness for a year? How would you do it?
Do you know any survival skills? Which skills would you need to live alone in the wilderness?
What does Sam learn about companionship during his time alone? Is it important to be around other people? Why, or why not?
Have you read the book My Side of the Mountain? How was it different from the movie? How was it the same?