By Renee Longstreet,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Whimsical tale of a circus orphan has a few scary bits.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Kids will get an idealized look at behind-the-scenes circus life.
Key message is that lying can get you into trouble; characters who lie or cheat pay for their misdeeds. Also, people are not always what they seem to be. A smiling, seemingly helpful person may be devious and selfish, while a gruff exterior may hide a soft, caring soul.
Positive Role Models
Toby is a resourceful, hard-working, caring young boy who learns the value of honesty. Adults in positions of authority range from two-faced and heartless to gentle and kind; some redeem themselves by the story's end.
Violence & Scariness
Some cartoon action: a large, strongman throws several people into water to punish them for bad behavior. A chimpanzee errantly fires a gun multiple times; no one is hit. Also, a boy falls from a horse and breaks his leg; and two scary incidents involve the chimp and at one point viewers think he might be dead.
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No swearing, but Toby is subjected to hurtful insults from some adults: "shiftless, ungrateful boy," "you're nothing to us," "you're a millstone around our necks."
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Toby Tyler is an old-fashioned movie with lots of humor and some mild action scenes. The lovable orphan boy at the heart of the story encounters some cruel, greedy adults, who treat him badly. But he also meets some kind, generous, helpful people and a chimpanzee who becomes his best friend. There is some comic action as well as a few potentially upsetting scenes where a boy falls from a horse and breaks his leg, and several instances when the chimp is in major danger.
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Where to Watch
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What's the Story?
The circus has come to TOBY TYLER's town! It's the highlight of the year and Toby (Kevin Corcoran) is more excited than anybody. In love with the animals, the big top, and all things circus, the enthusiastic orphan doesn't have any money to spend, but he's blissfully happy. Harry Tupper, the peanut vendor (Bob Sweeney) makes him a fantastic offer -- Toby can have a job with the circus as a concessionaire. Toby ruefully declines -- his aunt and uncle need him on the family farm. But when Toby gets home and is roundly harangued by his mean-spirited uncle, the boy runs away and catches up with the circus in the nick of time. What follows is a series of comical adventures as Toby befriends an adorable young bareback rider just his age, a clown and a strongman who becomes important allies, and best of all, Mr. Stubbs, a mischievous chimp. Trouble arises only when Toby finds out that Mr. Tupper is not quite as advertised. Ultimately, the circus faces a major crisis and only Toby can save the day.
Is It Any Good?
Even the villains are funny in this nostalgic look at an America long gone. It's an early Disney release with enchanting kids, caring adults, lovable animals as well con artists, meanies, and trouble-makers.
Old-fashioned, heartwarming performances (particularly by the winning Mr. Stubbs -- an adorable chimpanzee), inventive situations, and some extraordinary bareback-riding sequences should be entertaining for everyone.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about how first impressions aren't always correct. How did both Harry Tupper and Ben Cotter turn out to be different from what they originally seemed? Have you made assumptions about someone that ended up being wrong?
What message does this movie send about honesty?
The traveling circus was an important part of American life many years ago. How have changes in media and technology changed that?
- In theaters: January 21, 1960
- On DVD or streaming: August 2, 2005
- Cast: Bob Sweeney, Henry Calvin, Kevin Corcoran
- Director: Charles Barton
- Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Book Characters, Great Boy Role Models, Wild Animals
- Run time: 95 minutes
- MPAA rating: G
- Last updated: October 8, 2022
Did we miss something on diversity?
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