1 The Mickey Mindset: Retro Reviews: So Dear to My Heart DVD and Film Review

Friday, April 18, 2014

Retro Reviews: So Dear to My Heart DVD and Film Review

Jason Schlierman- With such an extensive film and television library today, it would be easy to forget that the early days of the studio were always a bit more unstable.  Each new film was a gamble that would either build the fledgling Disney Studios up, or completely bankrupt Walt and his brother Roy, thus putting them out of commission for good.  The Disney brothers realized however, that, as the primary them of their late 1940’s film stated, “It’s what you do with what you got.”  A valuable lesson that easily could be applied to just about any life situation was defiantly the anthem for the early days of the Walt Disney Studios and helped carry them through, into the bread and butter days of the 1950’s and 60’s later.

By the time we get to the late 1940’s, the Disney name was starting to mean something to movie goers, with most audiences tying it to Mickey Mouse cartoons and quality animation.  Walt, ultimately being more a story teller then animator, had ambitions to get into live-action films and not just do animated features.  His earliest live-action films still had a lot of animation in them.  After the success of Song of the South (which still had a lot of animation in the film), Walt turned his attention to a book entitled, Midnight and Jeremiah by Sterling North.  Set in early 1900’s in Indiana, Walt quickly found an interest in the story (a lot due to the fact that it featured a setting that was basically identical to the one he grew up in) and turning it into a film.

Originally being Disney’s first fully live-action film, RKO Radio, the original distributor, pushed Walt to add animation into the picture.  Disney had wanted to do live action films without animation including early development on Song of the South, So Dear to Our Heart (the original name of the film) and the Untitled Alice in Wonderland/Lewis Carroll Movie that was on the drawing board at the time. RKO Radio however did not have confidence that audiences would see a Disney Picture that wasn’t animated.

So Disney had some animation added in to appease his distributor, who despite advertising a live-action film with limited animation, wanted the public to think it was another animated film from Disney.  This was very evident in the marketing of So Dear to My Heart by the film posters advertising the film being filled with animated characters next to the live-action cast.  Disney had realized that it was more cost effective for his cash strapped studio if he could make live action films, because they were cheaper to produce that animated films, and could easily fill the studios coffers again.

Walt cast Bobby Driscoll and Luana Patten, who had just started in Song of the South, to once again be the stars of his newest film, which he titled, So Dear to My Heart.  Burl Ives (Summer Magic, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer) and Beulah Bondi (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, It’s a Wonderful Life) were cast to play Uncle Hiram and Granny Kincaid, with screen legend Harry Carey (A Knight of the Range, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) in his final role as the head Judge of the County Fair.  The film debuted in Chicago in late 1948 and then was released nationally in early 1949.

The Film:
(4 stars out of 5)

So Dear to My Heart starts out by introducing us to Jeremiah Kincaid, a young boy living in Fulton Corners, Indiana, in the early part of the 20th Century.  Jeremiah has a chance encounter with the famous race horse Dan Patch, and then dreams of owning his own his own prize stallion.  However his dreams soon shift slightly after finding himself little black lamb that Jeremiah names Danny.  Soon, Jeremiah plains on taking Danny to the Pike County Fair in the hope of winning the blue ribbon and the cash award.

The challenge however for young Jeremiah is that his well-meaning, but strict grandmother is against the notion of him going off to the fair. Having to raise him, she is more concerned with Jeremiah’s relationship with God and his learning to work hard for what he has.  She sees blue ribbons and cash awards as vain, silly wastes of time, and feels they have no place for young Jeremiah.  After a serious of events unfold, both end up learning important lessons about life, not giving up on your dreams, and thinking about others ahead of self.

The film has a lot of really sweet messages, and is filled with life lessons that transcend into lessons people can utilize even in this day and age.  The animated sequences each are filled with song and the kind of breathe taking animation Disney was known for.  The performances given by the cast, stand up on par with the quality of the animation, for a high performance picture. While, it certainly is a film of its time, the acting seems a bit timeless, and since the animation is few and far in-between, that’s a good thing. At the center of this is Disney Legend, Bobby Driscoll, who here provides his second appearance in a Disney film.  Next to Driscoll is the legendary Burl Ives, who performs what will go on to be one of his signature songs, “Lavender Blue.”

The DVD:
(3 out of 5 stars)

So Dear to My Heart has an interesting history on DVD.  In the US, it was originally slated for release in early 2002 as part of the now discontinued Gold Classics Collection, but for unknown reasons, never made it as a retail release.  It resurfaced late in 2008 as a Disney Movie Club exclusive and as of 2012 is still sold only via that web site.

The DVD comes in a white case with the typical yellow Disney Movie Club cover and “Wonderful World of Disney” logo on the very top.  The disc itself has a very nice picture of Bobby Driscoll’s Jeremiah behind a clear blue sky, and may be one of the best looking DMC discs to-date.  The DVD also comes with an insert for Disney Movie Rewards points.

Menu and Extras:
(3 out of 5 stars)

Most DMC titles are as barebones as a DVD can possibly be without being non-existent.  That however is very surprisingly and happily not the case with this title.  Again, most likely due to it originally being meant for retail release, So Dear to My Heart boasts a number of extras.  Probably the two highly here are the relatively short yet enjoyable Walt Disney introduction to the film when it made its television debut on November 24, 1954 as the fifth episode of the Disney Anthology show, Disneyland, and then the art gallery filled with production photos and concept art. 

Rounding out the extras are two animated shorts, Out of Scale (1951) and Brave Engineer (1950) as well as Fun Film Facts about the movie.  The DVD also has an option for closed caption English subtitles for the hearing impaired and finally chapter selections.  And of course, rounding all of this out is a very nice menu screen with easy option in getting to all of the above mentioned features.

Additionally, the DVD released in Brazil, which was under “The Golden Classics” banner, included about 30 minutes worth of deleted scenes not included on the US release.

Final Conclusion:
(4 out of 5 stars total)

As one of the signature Disney films of the 1940’s, So Dear to my Heart really does live up to that title.  It’s a fun family film with many great messages, quality acting and gorgeous animation.   It is also easily the best DMC titles released and an easy DVD to suggest to Disney fans, families or film collectors.  If for whatever reason you only are able to pick up one of these Disney Movie Club exclusive titles, make sure it is this one.

You can purchase it HERE.

The Mickey Mindset: mickeymindset@gmail.com

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