A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
The film is intended to entertain, not educate, but kids will get a glimpse of a bygone era.
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
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.
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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. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.