Big Red (1962)


In Canada, a wealthy landowner (Walter Pidgeon, Mrs. Miniver) hires an orphan (Gilles Payant) to take care of his prized dog, an Irish Setter named “Red.” The child and dog form a strong bond, to the bewilderment of the dog’s emotionally aloof owner.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“You know, Rene, I was wrong about him, about Red. I said he was irresponsible, but he was ready to get himself killed for me.”

Eclipsed somewhat by Old Yeller and Greyfriars Bobby: The True Story of a Dog, Disney’s Big Red deserves to be showered with praise; this is an enjoyably old-fashioned family movie, a must for Disney fans and animal lovers.

It’s a nicely realized story about a wealthy curmudgeon who learns a few life lessons from both a precocious young boy and a clever four-legged creature. It’s all done in the most unpretentious manner. Although Big Red could have benefited from a bit more conflict, I still liked it a lot — this is an entertaining and charming movie.

One thing that can be said in defense of Big Red is that it is less manipulative than most movies of its type. The emotions are here, but the film doesn’t ram them down our throats. Walter Pidgeon’s deliberately unemotional performance is used effectively to prevent the movie from ever becoming too saccharine.

Director Norman Tokar (The Apple Dumpling Gang), whose career consists mostly of Disney productions, lets the story unfold without fancy bells and whistles. Big Red is purposely shapeless, like an unadorned slice of life. The beautiful scenery is a big plus — it was shot inside the San Bernardino National Forest.

Although the Irish Setter is a gorgeous-looking creature, Big Red really belongs to Gilles Payant, a local Canadian boy whose first and only film was this one. The film works because Payant is so natural; there is nothing artificial about his performance. He also has great chemistry with veteran Canadian actor Pidgeon.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Big Red is no Old Yeller, but it is a nice dog movie — “Red” deserves a place in the canine hall of fame. The film is for people who love animals and the outdoors. The Sherman Brothers (May Poppins) wrote the main song. The incidental music was written by Oliver Wallace (The Incredible Journey). Color, 91 minutes, Rated G.

2 responses to “Big Red (1962)

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