Australian Council on Children and the Media

Old Yeller

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Short takes

Not suitable under 7; parental guidance to 9 (scary scenes and sad themes of death and loss)

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Old Yeller
  • a review of Old Yeller completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 13 July 2020.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 7 Not suitable due to scary scenes and sad themes of death and loss (wild animal attacks; death of beloved pet), and to give some historical context.
Children aged 7–9 Parental guidance recommended due to scary scenes and sad themes of death and loss (wild animal attacks; death of beloved pet).
Children aged 10 and over Ok for this age group.

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines.

Name of movie: Old Yeller
Classification: G
Consumer advice lines: None specified.
Length 83 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

Texas, in the late 1860s: Katie (Dorothy McGuire) and Jim Coates (Fess Parker) run a family farm with their sons Travis (Tommy Kirk) and Arliss (Kevin Corcoran). When Jim has to travel to Kansas to trade cattle, during his absence, 15 year-old Travis adopts the role of ‘the man in the house’, working the cornfield, hunting, and managing other chores around the farm. One day while working the field, Travis encounters a cheeky stray dog, whom he spontaneously names, "Old Yeller". While Travis initially does not trust Old Yeller, his younger brother Arliss, who is yearning for a pet dog, convinces Travis and Katie that he might be a useful cattle and watch dog. Indeed, before long, Old Yeller proves himself worthy, and even saves both Arliss' and Travis' lives on numerous occasions. But just when the family cannot imagine life without Old Yeller anymore, he is attacked by a rabid wolf and the family are confronted with a heart-breaking decision.

Themesinfo

Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

Early American settlers; adventure; tearjerker; coming of Age; family; animals and nature; responsibility; friendship; courage.

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

There is some violence in this movie including:

  • Travis indicates that Arliss deserves, "a thrashing".
  • Travis and Arliss get into a fight, throwing rocks at each other.

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children under the age of five, including the following:

  • When Arliss plays with a bear cub, suddenly its angry mother appears and darts toward him. Old Yeller attacks and distracts the bear so that Arliss can escape. Travis and Katie are seen terrified and Arliss suffers a shock.
  • While marking feral hogs, Travis falls off a tree and gets attacked. He is seen scared and shouting for help and he suffers a bad cut on his leg. Old Yeller comes to his aid and get badly mauled as well.
  • One of the family's cows, Rose, contracts rabies (referred to as "hydrophobia") and is seen stumbling around and collapsing, so Travis has to shoot her. The actual shooting scene is not seen but the gunshot is heard. This may particularly upset sensitive children because Rose had just recently had a calf.
  • While burning Rose's carcass, Katie nearly gets attacked by an aggressive wolf but Old Yeller fights it off. Travis shoots the wolf. Old Yeller is seen blood-stained.
  • There is an anxious wait whether Old Yeller has contracted hydrophobia/rabies and he gets locked up in a shed. Just before the critical incubation period is up and everyone is hopeful that he will be fine, Travis goes to feed him and finds him aggressively growling, snarling, and foaming. Devastated, he cannot bring himself to tell his mother and brother straight away. Impatient and unaware, Arliss decides to let Old Yeller out – and Katie only just prevents him from getting attacked.
  • As there is no cure for rabies, Katie gets the gun to put Old Yeller out of his misery. Travis decides that it his duty because Old Yeller was his dog. He is seen aiming into the shed, a gunshot is heard, and Travis silently walks away.
    • This scene is clearly highly emotional and especially young viewers who either haven't experienced or are sensitive about the topic of loss will need parental guidance.

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes and scary visual images, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged five to eight, including the following:

  • The above-mentioned scenes are likely to scare or disturb children in this age group.

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged eight to thirteen, including the following:

  • The above-mentioned scenes are likely to scare or disturb some children in this age group.

Over thirteeninfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

Nothing further of concern.

Product placement

  • None noted.

Sexual references

  • None noted.

Nudity and sexual activity

  • None noted.

Use of substances

  • None noted.

Coarse language

  • None noted.

In a nutshell

Old Yeller is an award-winning Disney Classic packed with valuable and important life lessons. It gives a fascinating insight into the life of American settlers and their everyday and family lives. The story does not shy away from portraying the sad, dark, and scary sides of life but uses the opportunity to deliver messages of how to overcome and grow from those challenges. Some parts of the story and scenes are likely too intense for a young audience, and parental guidance is recommended due to some scary and very sad scenes, and to put the story and events into historical context.

The main messages from this movie are that unfortunately life does not spare us sad, scary, and challenging moments, but when we are confronted with those, it is important to take away useful lessons, to grow, and to remind ourselves of the many positives. Despite the incredible sadness of Travis having to put down his beloved dog, the film compensates the viewer with the many positive role models and important messages, and ends on a positive and hopeful note.

Values in this movie that parents may wish to reinforce with their children include:

  • friendship
  • love
  • growing from challenges
  • taking responsibility
  • courage
  • making difficult choices
  • accepting that loss, grief, and sadness are a part of life
  • looking out for the positives.

This movie could also give parents the opportunity to discuss with their children the importance of understanding how times, society, culture, and family lives are ever-changing. Parents can discuss with their children in what ways children grew up differently back then, what kind of responsibilities and challenges children and parents were facing then compared to today, and which values remain stable throughout time.

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