The Legend of Cougar Canyon

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
The Legend of Cougar Canyon Movie Poster Image
Dated '70s documentary with some animal violence.
  • NR
  • 2002
  • 91 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

This documentary shows the life-and-death relationships of predators to prey in the American Southwest. It also shows how the Navajo tribe lives and interacts with the nature around them.

Positive Messages

The Navajo are described as loving, and being respectful of nature and seeing the animals around them as brothers.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Steve, a Navajo kid, and Walter, a Caucasian boy, are shown being good friends, working and playing together as they explore Cougar Canyon and protect their flocks from cougars.

Violence & Scariness

Scenes of animal violence between cougars and other animals, some encounters result in death. A young Navajo boy has a nightmare about a cougar attacking his herd of sheep and goats, and as the narrator talks about Navajo beliefs of "dead spirits" in parts of the canyon, quick shots of older Native Americans are combined with a brief shot of a Native American skeleton, and the howls of the dead. A boy is pounced upon by a cougar, but throws him off and defends himself without even a scratch.

Sexy Stuff

Dated references to Native Americans.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The Navajo go to the trading post and trade goods for "tobacco and cigarettes."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Legend of Cougar Canyon is more of a dated nature documentary from the 1970s than a story about any sort of legend. The first 50 minutes of the film show animals of the Monument Valley region of the American Southwest -- predators and prey, mainly -- fighting for survival, with a kind of Mutual of Omaha narration. For kids accustomed to IMAX and HDTV basic cable nature shows, this old-fashioned-looking movie will lack the pizazz and technical quality they are used to.

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What's the story?

Not so much a story as it is an overview of how animals and Navajo live and survive in the desert climate of the Monument Valley of the American Southwest, THE LEGEND OF COUGAR CANYON spends the first half of the film essentially following around a cougar as it tries to find prey to hunt, kill, and eat. Other animals -- badgers, hawks, bears, rattlesnakes, cottontail rabbits, sheep, and goat -- are also shown pursuing or being pursued.

The second half of the film follows a Navajo boy named Steve and his white friend Walter as they camp out in Cougar Canyon while taking Steve's family's sheep and goat herd out to pasture. While watching a raccoon frolic, the cougar senses the boys are not paying attention and sees the opportunity for food. The boys rescue the herd, but while doing so, a goat valued by Steve's sister escapes from the herd and is being chased by the cougar, and it is up to the boys to try and rescue the goat before it is too late.

Is it any good?

For parents who can recall the days of nature shows like Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, there is some quaint charm to THE LEGEND OF COUGAR CANYON. The overbearing narration, the corny background music, the almost too-perfect choreography of the predators and prey in their habitat, all should bring back quaint memories of growing up pre-digital.

However, for kids and young adults weaned on Blu-Ray, 3-D television, HDTV, DVD, and even VHS nature documentaries, this slice of mid-20th century documentary filmmaking will most certainly prove too corny and dated to be of interest.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how nature documentaries have evolved since this one came out in 1974. Why does this feel dated compared to how nature documentaries are produced today?

  • How are the Navajo represented in this documentary? How accurately do you think this reflects their traditions and culture?

  • Why does the narrator have such an active role in this documentary?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love science and nature

Themes & Topics

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