Old Yeller

Movie review by
Nell Minow, Common Sense Media
Old Yeller Movie Poster Image
Popular with kidsParents recommend
Tearjerker is one of the best early Disney dramas.
  • G
  • 1957
  • 84 minutes

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 14 reviews

Kids say

age 8+
Based on 16 reviews

We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

The film is intended to entertain, not educate, but kids will get a glimpse of a bygone era.

Positive Messages

Themes include compassion and integrity. Even in the face of tremendous difficulty and heartbreak, there's always a resilience to the human spirit. Also, even though loving and caring for another being can be difficult and painful, it's worth it. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Katie Coates is a strong frontierswoman and a firm but loving mother to her two sons. As the oldest son in charge of maintaining the ranch while his father is on a cattle run, Travis Coates learns hard work and responsibility. The father gives some great guidance to his son dealing with loss.

Violence & Scariness

As a western set in the 1950's, there's lots of hunting with rifles in this film. The youngest boy throws rocks at other characters when he's upset. Old Yeller fights with wolves, a bear, and wild pigs. While trying to rope the wild pigs, Travis falls and gets attacked by one of the animals, who bites and stabs at his leg, leaving him injured and bloody. And then, of course, there's the legendary ending, when Old Yeller must be put out of his misery.

Sexy Stuff
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Old Yeller is a classic 1950s tearjerker about love and loss between a frontier family and a dog. It has characters hunting with rifles, and fierce battles between Old Yeller and various wild animals that could be too intense for younger viewers. And, of course, there is the now-legendary climax of the film, which could definitely be difficult for children still coming to grips with life and death of pets and people. Still, it is a classic story of loss, and an excellent way to begin a discussion of those issues.

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User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written byMelissa L. February 15, 2019

Traumatized by this movie

Seriously commonsesnse? I was traumatized by this in 1975 and you are recommending it. A boy has to kill his hero dog. Horrible, traumatizing subject.
Adult Written byT. Armstrong January 18, 2019

Too Much Sadness - Needless Drama and sadness. Far worse than should be allowed.

I read this when I was in 6th grade. I got to where the guy shoots his dog in the head and was sobbing so much I couldn't read any more. It affected me so... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bychristian.torres2007 June 6, 2020

Nah... I have bigger and better things to do.

Honestly it was good until the end. I don’t care about him becoming a man, all I learned is that life sucks. But the fact is that’s not true, so in reality, I d... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old May 12, 2020

Good, yet sad.

Its a good movie, but before you watch it with your kids, it had a dog that the family will love a lot, but, spoilers, it will be put down because it was rabid,... Continue reading

What's the story?

At the start of OLD YELLER, in 1869 Texas, Jim Coates (Fess Parker) leaves his family for three months to sell their cattle, and tells his older son, Travis (Tommy Kirk) to take care of his mother, Katie (Dorothy McGuire) and his younger brother, Arliss (Kevin Corcoran). When a stray dog comes to their farm, Arliss "claims" him, over Travis' objections. But Old Yeller turns out to be an outstanding dog and pal for Travis. When Old Yeller saves Katie from a rabid wolf, Travis is faced with the hardest decision of his young life.

Is it any good?

This classic family film is a touching tale. The scene when Jim returns, as Travis and his friend Lisbeth are burying Old Yeller, is particularly meaningful. Jim tells him that the loss of Yeller is "not a thing you can forget. Maybe not a thing you want to forget. ... Now and then, for no good reason a man can figure out, life will just haul off and knock him flat. … I'll tell you a trick that's sometimes a big help. Start looking around for something good to take the place of the bad."

Jim's talk with Travis is a model of parental wisdom, understanding, and patience. He accepts and validates Travis' feelings completely, and does not try to minimize or talk him out of them. (Contrast that with Lisbeth, who tries to comfort Travis by encouraging him to "come to like the pup.") Instead of telling him what to do, he says, "I'll tell you a trick that's sometimes a big help," letting him decide for himself whether to take the advice. Travis was not just reluctant to adopt Old Yeller at first -- he was downright hostile because of the loss of his first dog, Belle. That, at the end of the movie, he is able to accept Young Yeller more easily shows how much he has grown up.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the Coates family lives in Old Yeller. How do they get their food, talk, and behave in ways that are different and similar to families today?

  • What do you think the ultimate message of the movie is?

  • How does Travis' attitude toward Old Yeller change throughout the movie?

  • How do the characters in Old Yeller demonstrate compassion and integrity? Why are these important character strengths?

Movie details

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Character Strengths

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Themes & Topics

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