Sunday, January 31, 2010

White Wilderness - 1958

The sixth True-Life Adventure feature would set its sights North to the arctic region of the world. It took more than twelve photographers six years to gather all of the footage used in the film. Because of the harsh extremes in climate that this film was shot in, this was some of the first film footage ever shot in Antarctica.

Like the other True-Life Adventures, White Wilderness opens with a paintbrush as the narrator explains the ice age and how it changed animal life on Earth. Animals highlighted in the film are walruses, polar bears, seals, beluga whales, lemmings, ducks, wolves, and wolverines. The film ends as the sun sets on snow covered mountains.

White Wilderness premiered on August 12th, 1958. Like the other True-Life Adventures, it received mixed reviews from critics. Those that disliked it couldn't get past the sometimes humorous narration and editing. Those that praised it were in awe of the footage featured. Audiences ate it up as well and it was re-released several times in theaters. It won an Academy Award for best documentary and was also nominated for best music.

I'm not a big fan of White Wilderness and I think the reason is that so many other nature documentaries have covered the arctic region so well that this pales by comparison. However, it's still an enjoyable film. The True-Life Adventures are surrounded by controversy for staging sequences that didn't occur naturally, but the biggest example can be found in this film. Supposedly the crew purchased a group of lemmings and literally pushed them off a cliff to film the mythical mass suicide. Had this film been made today, animal rights activists would not have allowed it to happen, but in 1958 it was legal, albeit unethical.

White Wilderness was released on DVD in 2006 as part of the Walt Disney Legacy Collection. It can be found on the first volume of the True-Life Adventures series where it has been fully restored. The DVD is now out of print and copies are hard to find. It is available on iTunes where it can be purchased in HD.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Light in the Forest - 1958

Like Old Yeller before it, The Light in the Forest is a western based on a popular book. The fictional novel of the same name was released in 1953 and was written by Conrad Richter. This would be the final Disney film for Fess Parker, who at the time was Disney's biggest star. However, it was the first of four Disney films for James McArthur. Most of the film was shot in Tennessee, but some scenes were shot in California.

The film takes place in 1764 as a peace treaty is made with the chief of the Delaware indians to release all of their white captives. A young white man named True Son who was raised by the indians is reluctant to go because he feels like more of an indian than a white man. He is taken to Pensylvania where his birth parents are waiting for him. His birth name is Johnny Butler and Del Hardy, the man who was in charge of returning Johnny, is ordered to keep an eye on him. Johnny's aunt and uncle have an indentured servant named Shenandoe who's parents were killed by indians. Against the odds, Johnny and Shenandoe become friends, which turns into a relationship. Before Del leaves, he arranges for Johnny to have some land on a mountain. Johnny asks Shenandoe to marry him just as his indian cousins arrive and Johnny's uncle kills one of them. He runs back to the Delaware who go on the warpath killing settlers. Realizing that what they are doing is wrong, Johnny thwarts their efforts and leaves the tribe. When he gets back to town, he has to fight his uncle. After winning, Johnny and Shenandoe go to his mountain as the film ends.

The Light in the Forest premiered on July 8th, 1958. It received mostly positive reviews from critics who praised its more serious subject matter for a Disney film and also its winning performances. Box office records for the film aren't publicly available, so I don't know if it was a success. It was never re-released theatrically, although it aired several times on TV before the advent of home video.

My first experience with The Light in the Forest was actually with the book, which I had to read in middle school. After reading it, our teacher showed us this film version. Both versions are great, but the film is quite different from the book. At any rate, it's a beautiful film about prejudices and the fact that there are good and bad people everywhere. The film is well made with beautiful cinematography and great acting. It's definitely worth seeing.

The Light in the Forest was released to VHS several times, most recently in 1997. While it has never been widely released on DVD, an educational version can be purchased from Disney Educational Productions for the steep price of $29.99. For this review, I used a VHS copy. Hopefully Disney will give this film a wide DVD release so that more people can experience it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Old Yeller - 1957

In the 1950's, America was obsessed with western films, so it seemed only fitting that Disney would make westerns as well. Davy Crockett was such a huge hit for Walt, both on TV and in its theatrical releases, that two other Disney westerns, The Great Locomotive Chase and Westward Ho the Wagons!, followed a similar formula and starred Fess Parker. It seemed only fitting to include him in the next Disney western film. However, even though he would share top billing with Dorothy McGuire, Fess Parker would have very little screen time. The true stars of this film were newcomers Tommy Kirk and Kevin "Moochie" Corcoran. Tommy Kirk had recently appeared as Joe Hardy in The Hardy Boys, a serial on The Mickey Mouse Club. After that, he was signed to a long term contract with Disney. A similar thing happened with Kevin Corcoran, who occasionally appeared on The Mickey Mouse Club and earned the nickname "Moochie" for the character he played in The Hardy Boys.

The main difference between Old Yeller and the previous Disney westerns is that the other films had a lot of action and suspense, but little emotion. Old Yeller is almost the opposite. While there are a few suspenseful scenes, it is mostly a laid back film about a simpler time. This film is sure to strike any viewer with an emotional chord as well, as it does get very sad. Old Yeller is based on a book by Fred Gibson, which had already taken America by storm becoming a best seller, so audiences in 1957 might have already known how the book ended. But because this was a Disney film and since Disney is famous for sugar coating things, audiences didn't expect the film to have the same ending. Surprisingly, Disney's Old Yeller is faithful to the book.

The film opens with a theme song reminiscent of "The Ballad of Davy Crockett." The film opens on a Texas family who's father is leaving for a few months to sell their cattle. He leaves his oldest of two sons, Travis, in charge of keeping up with the farm's chores. However, a stray dog causes them problems, but the dog proves useful when he saves Arliss from an angry bear. One day, a man comes claiming that the dog is his, but when he sees how much the dog means to the family, he lets them keep him. As he leaves, he warns him of the hydrophobia that's been affecting animals nearby. When a wolf gets onto the farm, Old Yeller fights it off to save the family. When Travis' mom realizes that the wolf had hydrophobia, he locks Old Yeller up to wait and see if the dog has it. Two weeks later, Old Yeller turns on Travis and it becomes clear that he has been infected. As a result, Travis has to put down the dog he has come to love. Travis' dad soon returns as Travis is burrying Old Yeller. Their neighbor Lisbeth brings them one of her dogs puppies which are also Old Yeller's. As Travis begins to take a liking to the new puppy, the film ends with the same song that opened the film as the puppy and the boys play.

Old Yeller was released on December 25th, 1957 and was a huge success. Critics adored it and audiences flocked to see it, making Tommy Kirk and Kevin Corcoran instant stars. Since its original release, Old Yeller has become a part of American culture. To this day, it is one of the most critically acclaimed Disney films and when you mention the film to most people, they will get a little emotional.

When Walt Disney decided to make Old Yeller I'm sure he knew that this would be a special film, but I doubt that he could have foreseen that this film would be popular for generations and become a part of almost every American's childhood. It was certainly a part of mine and I remember balling the first time I saw it. I've seen it about 15 times and it still brings tears to my eyes. The performances are all amazing and realistically played, including the animal actors. The film does an amazing job of making you fall in love with Old Yeller so that when Travis has to put him down, it's as if it is your dog, too. Few films are able to touch audiences in the same way and few films stay with you the way that Old Yeller does.

Old Yeller is currently available on DVD paired with its sequel, Savage Sam. Both films are compressed onto the same disc. The 2-disc set includes an audio commentary for Old Yeller, a making-of documentary and a retrospective on Tommy Kirk's Disney career. The film has been fully restored and is presented in its original widescreen aspect ratio. A standalone version was released in 2002 and is now out of print, but is the recommended version because the film is less compressed and therefore looks a little better. Bonus features are identical between the two releases. It is also available on iTunes in HD widescreen, but the digital copy doesn't include any bonus features.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Perri - 1957

For the fifth True-Life Adventure feature film, Walt Disney decided to do something different. Instead of letting nature tell the story as he had with the previous films, he would film animals to tell a prewritten story and call it a "True-Life Fantasy." The source material was a book by Felix Salten, the author of Bambi which Walt had previously adapted as an animated feature. Filming took place between Utah and Wyoming to tell the story of a female squirrel named Perri.

doesn't begin with a spinning globe or a paint brush like the True-Life Adventures, but instead opens like a regular Disney film outside of the series. The story begins in Wildwood Heart as lots of baby animals are being born. The perils of being a baby animal are displayed as several animals try to get at the baby squirrels, but they are saved by their mother who then teaches them how to walk. We follow Perri as she learns about predators and tries to make friends. She meets a male squirrel named Porro, who finds it challenging to build and keep a home. As winter arrives, Perri keeps dodging a martin who is intent on eating her. When Spring returns, also known as "together time," Perri attempts to make Porro her mate. However, a forest fire puts a cease to "together time" as all of the animals try to find shelter. Rain stops the fire, but just as Perri and Porro find each other, the martin finds Perri and Porro must save her. Just as Porro is about to be caught, a bobcat comes and gets the martin. The film ends happily with Perri and Porro sharing "together time."

Perri was released on August 28th, 1957. Critics were fairly mixed on the film. Many praised it for its accomplishment of using real nature footage to tell a pre-existing story, but most bashed it for the same reason. While the film was a box office success, Walt Disney decided to not make any more True-Life Fantasy films. However, this wasn't the last film of its kind. Disney would go on to make many animal films with a similar narrative. Perri was successful enough to get several theatrical re-releases in 1964 and 1972. It was nominated for an Academy Award for best score.

This True-Life Fantasy is a bit of a mixed bag in my opinion. It feels like a lot of time is spent on other animals, which takes away from the main focus, Perri, and stops the story. However, it has a lot of strengths. All of the scenes are exquisitely shot and beautiful. The suspenseful scenes are gripping and there are plenty of gorgeous scenes, some of which even combine animated elements. The music is wonderful and its easy to see why it was nominated for an Oscar. The films main downfall is the story, which isn't that intersting. While the story has a lot in common with Bambi, and even includes a cameo by the prince of the forest, it lacks the heart and warmth of that film.

In the history of home entertainment, Perri has only been released on home video once in the U.S. and that was in 2006 when all of the True-Life Adventures were brought to DVD as part of the Walt Disney Legacy Collection. It can be found on volume 4 and includes a variety of bonus features specific to Perri. Sadly, the DVD is now out of print and copies have become rare and hard to come by. It is now available on iTunes where it is available in HD.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Johnny Tremain - 1957

Like many Disney films of the 1950's and 60's, Johnny Tremain started as a two part episode of the Disneyland TV series. Based on the novel by Esther Forbe's, the film tells the story of a fictional character who lived during the Revolutionary War. Disney fans might recognize a familiar face. Johnny's love interest is played by a teenage Luana Patten, one of Disney's first contract stars from Song of the South and So Dear to My Heart. This was also the first Disney film directed by Robert Stevenson, who would go on to direct many classic Disney films, including Mary Poppins.

Johnny Tremain is a silversmith's apprentice who is secretly a relative of Johnathan Lyte, the richest man in Boston. When Johnny's hand is injured while repairing a cup for Mr. Lyte, he reveals his relation to him only to be locked in jail for allegedly stealing. After being freed by Paul Revere, he joins the Sons of Liberty and helps at the Boston tea party. From there, Johnny serves as a spy, finding out information about the red coats plans. He joins the revolutionary war to fight for America's freedom, winning the heart of his friend Priscilla.

Johnny Tremain premiered on June 19th, 1957. Information about its box office earnings and critical reception are hard to obtain, but the fact that it was shown on TV only a year later leads me to believe that it was not a big success. However, time has kept this film alive, in large part due to the success of the book. I was required to read the book as part of my elementary education and we subsequently watched this film in class. It is something that has stuck with me ever since. It's a wonderful and uplifting film about the American spirit and why its so important to stand up for what you believe in. This film was the inspiration for an unbuilt area of Disneyland that was to be called Liberty Street. However, that idea would be reused in 1971 when Walt Disney World opened. One of the lands of the Magic Kingdom is called Liberty Square and at the heart of it is the liberty tree, full of lanterns just like in the movie.

Walt Disney's Johnny Tremain was released on DVD in 2005 and is still available. The film is presented in fullscreen, although it was originally released in widescreen. The film is accompanied by a promotional piece from the Disneyland series that promoted the film's theatrical release, as well as Walt Disney's original television introductions to both parts of the film. It is available on iTunes in widescreen where it is also available in HD, but there aren't any bonus features with the digital copy.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Westward Ho the Wagons! - 1956

Following America's obsession with westerns in the 1950's and the huge success of the Davy Crockett series and films, it seemed a wise choice for the Walt Disney Studios to rush another western into production. Tom Blackburn was chosen to write the screenplay, the same man who wrote all five episodes of Davy Crockett. The star of that series, Fess Parker, was cast as the lead, as well as Jeff York, who played Mike Fink. George Reeves, famous from TVs Adventures of Superman was cast as the group's leader. And to fill the roles of the children, Walt went directly to his new hit series, The Mickey Mouse Club. The studio spared little expense and filmed it in CinemaScope, the third Disney film to be shot in the new ultra-widescreen process.

Westward Ho the Wagons! takes place in 1846 as some of the first covered wagons travel to Oregon. When Pawnee indians steal some of their horses, their chances of making it become bleak. One of the children gets captured by the Pawnee and a rescue mission is planned and they get their horses back during battle. At a trading post, some kids trade buffalo hides for Sioux indian robes. However, an altercation with the Sioux over one of the girls who they believe is good luck. The chief arrives that night to make a trade for the girl and the feud is furthered when the settlers refuse. But when the chief's son is sick, the settler's doctor heals the boy and they make peace. The boy is saved and peace is restored as the settlers continue towards Oregon.

Walt Disney's Westward Ho the Wagons! was released on December 20th, 1956. I was unable to find any anformation on how it performed at the box office or what the critical reception was. However, there are two theme park references to the film. A covered wagon can be found in Frontierland at Disneyland with the words "Westward Ho" painted on the side and in Walt Disney World, a food stand is given the same name. As a film, Westward Ho the Wagons! delivers plenty of entertainment and excitement. The film has several songs which are all great and many of the action scenes are thrilling. Where the film falls flat is the story. If it wasn't filmed in CinemaScope, I would assume that this was a 2-part episode of the Disneyland series that was edited into a feature film. My theory is that it was written for TV and made as a feature instead, which would end up happening a lot with later Disney films.

Westward Ho the Wagons! is available on DVD as a Disney Movie Club Exclusive. However, the DVD release is not the original theatrical version, but instead presents the edited 1961 version that aired in two parts on the Disneyland series. Both VHS releases presented the film this way as well. In addition, all releases are presented in pan and scan full screen, so you won't get the full CinemaScope effect and are missing half the picture you should be seeing. This same fullscreen edited version is also available on iTunes.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Secrets of Life - 1956

For the 4th True-Life Adventure feature (and 11th film in the series), Walt Disney decided to do something a little different. Instead of focusing on a particular geographic region or a specific breed of animal, he chose to focus on miracles of natures tiniest creatures, including flowers and insects. As a result, it is hard to describe and was even harder to market (look at the lack of explanation in the film's original theatrical poster).

Secrets of Life begins with a paint brush in the same fashion as the other True-Life Adventures. The brush takes us through the makeup of our planet. The first topic is plants and how nature helps their seeds get planted. Many unique seeds are shown as they travel and overcome obstacles to germinate. Next, bees collect pollen from the new plants and we follow them into their hive and learn the specifics of their life. From bees, the film transitions into many other types of insects, including ants and grasshoppers. Next the film pops underwater and shows many unique creatures that live their and fascinating specifics of their lives. The film ends with footage of erupting volcanoes creating more land masses.

Walt Disney's Secrets of Life premiered on November 16, 1956 and was a big success. Critics praised it for being less slapstick than previous True-Life Adventures and for its revolutionary photography since this was one of the first times that slow motion flower growth was ever photographed. Audiences responded to it as well and it was a success.

Many fans of the True-Life Adventures series place Secrets of Life fairly low on their lists of favorites, but in my opinion it is the best in the series. It's diverse subjects prevent it from becoming stale or boring like the others. Production on Secrets of Life required more photographers than any other True-Life Adventures film. The bee sequence alone took three years to shoot.

Secrets of Life was released on DVD in 2006 as part of the Walt Disney Legacy Collection. It can be found on the fourth volume of the True-Life Adventures series where it has been fully restored. The DVD is now out of print, but copies are still easy to find. It is also available on iTunes in HD.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Davy Crockett and the River Pirates - 1956

Even though Davy Crockett died in the third installment of his Disneyland series and the subsequent film made from them, Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier, that didn't stop Walt Disney from making two more TV episodes and packaging them into a second feature film, Davy Crockett and the River Pirates. It's hard to call it a sequel since it actually takes place before the end of the first film, but no explanation is needed for audiences to understand that this is simply more stories about Davy.

The film begins with Davy and Georgie heading North to sell their furs. They decide to travel by river and end up making enemies with Mike Fink, self proclaimed "king of the river." They agree to a keelboat race and Davy assembles a crew. Even though Mike Fink sets up lots of traps to prevent Davy from winning, he wins anyway and Mike Fink agrees to take he and Georgie North to sell their furs. On their way to get horses from friendly Chickasaw Indians, Davy and Georgie are kidnapped by a group of Chickasaws because white men have been killing members of their tribe. They enlist Mike Fink and his crew to help stop the river pirates that have been posing as Chickasaws. They set a trap for the pirates by disguising themselves and bragging about the gold they are transporting at different ports so that the pirates will come after them. A battle ensues as Mike Fink's keel boat sinks. Of course, Davy, Georgie and Mike are able to stop the pirates and make the river safe for passage as "The Ballad of Davy Crockett" plays for the last time.

Davy Crockett and the River Pirates premiered on July 18, 1956, 8 months after the two episodes it was edited from originally aired. Like most fads, the Davy Crockett phenomenon had mostly died down by the time this film was released, so its success didn't match the previous feature. These were the final episodes for Davy on the Disneyland program and therefore, the last film.

As a film, Davy Crockett and the River Pirates has better flow than King of the Wild Frontier, but the source material isn't as interesting. I find the Mike Fink plot to be fairly pointless and while the river pirates segment is a lot more entertaining, it isn't enough to save the first half of the film. And of course the preferable way to view this material would be in its original episodic form, not the repackaged feature. The series inspired two attractions at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. The Davy Crocket Explorer Canoes are a fun attraction that are still available at Disneyland on the Rivers of America, but were removed at Disney World. And the Mike Fink Keel Boats were another nostalgic mode of transportation at both parks, but neither are still around.

Walt Disney's Davy Crockett and the River Pirates is currently available on DVD paired with first film, Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier. Both films are presented in fullscreen, the way they were filmed, but not their original theatrical aspect ratio, which was widescreen. All five original, uncut Disneyland episodes were released to DVD in 2001 as part of the Walt Disney Treasures collection. That 2-disc set was limited to 150,000 copies and has become heavily sought after by collectors. The film is available on iTunes, where it is available in fullscreen and in HD.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Great Locomotive Chase - 1956

It is no secret that Walt Disney loved trains and after having huge success with Davy Crockett and the star it created, Fess Parker, Walt decided to combine his love of trains and America's obsession with Westerns to make a period film based on the 1862 Civil War military raid of the Southern railroad. The Great Locomotive Chase was the third Disney film shot in the new CinemaScope widescreen process. Many exterior shots were done in Georgia, where the film takes place, but interiors were done at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, CA. Walt was busy with his theme park, Disneyland, during filming, so he didn't have a very active role in it. But director Francis Lyon said that he was active in the story process and visited the set in Georgia for a weekend.

The film is narrated by William Pittinger in flashback form. James Andrews is a member of the secret service who is planning on leaving and joining the war when he is given a mission to lead a group of men as spies to destroy the Southern railroad system. They encounter many exciting and perilous obstacles in their quest, eventually leading to a chase by the train's conductor, William Fuller. Fuller succeeds in stopping the mission as a hunt goes on to find the men who stole the train. Many are rounded up, including Pittinger and Andrews. A prison escape it foiled and only some of the men get away, but Andrews valiantly tries to fight the guards off. It is learned through flashback that he and the others were executed. The film ends with the surviving men receiving medals of honor.

The Great Locomotive Chase premiered on June 8th, 1956. Critics loved it because it was exactly the kind of big budget live action movie they expected from Disney. Audiences loved it too and it was a big success during its theatrical release. Surprisingly, it was never given a theatrical re-release and over time, it has become forgotten by most.

As a film, it is mostly enjoyable. While the acting isn't as great as it could have been, the cinematography provides a visually pleasing experience thanks to the natural environments and Peter Ellenshaw's masterful matte paintings. The film is full of lots of brisk action sequences that will keep you entertained. Its only real downfall is that after the chase is over, none of the action is able to top it. As an audience, we are spoiled by big action sequences coming towards the end of films, but here they happen a good 15 minutes before the end, causing the ending to feel a bit weak. In addition, the fact that they didn't succeed and the film's main character dies makes it feel a little bit pointless, but overall its a good movie.

Walt Disney's The Great Locomotive Chase was released on DVD in 2004. It is accurately presented in its original CinemaScope aspect ratio, but it is unfortunately presented letter boxed, meaning it is not formatted to fit widescreen TVs. The film is available on iTunes in widescreen, where it is also available in HD.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Littlest Outlaw - 1955

The Littlest Outlaw started as an idea for Walt Disney's weekly television series, Disneyland. Larry Lansburgh came up with the story after producing several animal films for the series, but Walt saw potential in the story and had Bill Walsh write the script as a feature film instead. It was decided that filming would be done in Mexico where the story was set and with a mostly Mexican cast. The film was shot twice in both English and Spanish for simultaneous release in multiple countries.

The film is about Little Pablito, the stepson of a general's horse trainer. He learns that his stepfather has been hurting the horse during training and when the horse injures the general's daughter out of fear, he orders it to be killed. So Little Pablito steals the horse and runs away, becoming an outlaw. After narrowly dodging several who want to turn the horse in and staying steps ahead of his step dad, he is helped by a priest. But when the horse runs away, he ends up sold to a bull fighting ring, where Little Pablito rescues him. In the end, Little Pablito returns to the general's home and returns the horse. The film ends happily with the general giving Little Pablito the horse.

Walt Disney's The Littlest Outlaw premiered on December 22, 1955. It received mixed reviews from critics. Those who liked it praised the excellent performances and authentic setting. Those who disliked it were expecting something much more grand from Walt Disney who was still known for animation and live action films with a lot of spectacle. Since The Littlest Outlaw didn't fit the mold of what they expected a Disney film to be, it was bashed. Audiences didn't respond incredibly well to the film either and it was not a big success.

I personally agree with the critics who praised the film. The acting is top notch and the filming locations make the film feel real. It is a very charming picture, but its main fault is that it feels more like an episode of Disneyland than a Disney film. Its other problem is that it is instantly forgettable. It is no wonder that this film has become so obscure that many of the most die hard Disney fans have never seen or heard of it.

The Littlest Outlaw is currently available on DVD as a Disney Movie Club Exclusive. Pressbooks for this film didn't offer guidelines on how to present the film, so the full screen presentation on this DVD is possibly the original theatrical aspect ratio. It is also available on iTunes in fullscreen, where it is available in HD.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The African Lion - 1955

The 10th film in Walt Disney's True-Life Adventures series and the 3rd feature length film in the series focused its attention outside of the United States for the first time. The animals of Africa are the focus of this film, but the lion is the real centerpiece, hence the title The African Lion. It took the Milottes three years to film enough material to be edited into this film.

Like the other True-Life Adventures, a paint brush opens the film by painting the continent of Africa and explains the regions of the continent. The feature mostly tells the story of the lion and all of its prey, including zebras, wildebeest, and elephants. Other animals featured that lion's don't hunt include the African buffalo, giraffes, rhinoceros, and baboons. The films' most charming moments come from scenes of playful lion cubs and baby baboons. There is plenty of suspense as well, including lions killing and eating other animals, but it is all done in an effort to show the balance of nature and the circle of life.

Walt Disney's The African Lion is heralded by most as the best film of the True-Life Adventures series. While it isn't my personal favorite, it is entertaining. Unlike the previous feature films in the series, The African Lion wasn't nominated for an Academy Award, but it did win best documentary feature at the Berlin International Film Festival. It was released on September 14th, 1955, and was successful enough to have several theatrical re-releases. What sets The African Lion apart from the previous features is tat none of the action was staged, or "faked." In addition, the narrative takes on a much less slapstick approach to telling the story. Since 1955, many wildlife documentaries have tackled the same subject and with better execution. Today, it serves mostly as a nostalgic look back at the predecessor to modern Animal Planet programs. If anything, it will inspire you to watch Disney's The Lion King or ride Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney's Animal Kingdom park in Walt Disney World.

The African Lion was released on DVD in 2006 as part of the Walt Disney Legacy Collection. It can be found on the third volume of the True-Life Adventures series where it has been fully restored. The DVD is now out of print, but copies are still easy to find. It is also available on iTunes in HD.