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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Where the Red Fern Grows is a 2003 adaptation of a classic children's book that's still required reading in many elementary and middle schools. Lots of good role models and messages about the value of hard work and patience; some are faith based. There's little content of concern, but some of the mild scariness from dogs and people in danger may be too much for little kids. Standing up to bullies involves a fight that shows punching, a bloody nose, bloody lip, and bruising. Bloody injuries are shown on dogs. Spoiler alert: Beloved pets and a child die.
What's the story?
In WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS, Billy Coleman (Joseph Ashton) lives on a farm in the Ozark Mountains during the Great Depression. More than anything, Billy wants a chance to raise hunting dogs, but money to buy puppies is hard to come by. Billy works doing odd jobs and finally earns enough money to buy two hound dogs and teaches them how to hunt raccoons. After a bet that his dogs can finally catch the infamous "ghost raccoon," a tragic accident makes Billy feel like he'll never hunt with his dogs again. But Grandpa (Dabney Coleman) tells him about an annual contest, and Billy can't resist entering Old Dan and Little Ann.
Is it any good?
This sincere and squeaky-clean version of a beloved classic that's still on many school reading lists is enjoyable but may fall short for those who've read and loved the book first. The 2003 version of Where the Red Fern Grows has lots of positive messages about the value of hard work and perseverance, but leaves out some of the stronger content from the book, both positive and negative. This means that the stronger emphasis on religious and character messages are weakened because there's no contrast.
Performances are OK but make it hard to connect emotionally with Billy, his family, and even his dogs. It feels more like you're watching types of people, as admirable as they may be, instead of getting to know real, specific characters. It's an OK choice for family movie night, especially if you're ready to offer reassurance to little ones when people and animals are in danger. But this film version falls far short of the original book; consider reading it aloud, or together, to really experience the full emotional impact of this American classic.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about which character strengths are shown in Where the Red Fern Grows. How do Billy and his family show integrity, perseverance, and being a good sport?
Have you read the book, or seen any other movie versions of the story? How are they different? How are they the same? Which do you like best?
What are some of your other favorite books or movies about kids and their pets?
- In theaters: May 3, 2003
- On DVD or streaming: December 21, 2004
- Cast: Joseph Ashton, Dave Matthews, Kris Kristofferson
- Directors: Lyman Dayton, Sam Pillsbury
- Studio: Walt Disney Home Entertainment
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Adventures, Book Characters, Cats, Dogs, and Mice, Great Boy Role Models, History
- Character Strengths: Integrity, Perseverance
- Run time: 86 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: Thematic elements
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.