Directed by: Carroll Ballard, Ken Annakin, William Beaudine, and James Flocker
Starring: Mickey Rooney, Richard Ian Cox, Marianne Filali, June Lockhart, Hugh Reilly, Jon Provost, Rex Allen, Charlton Heston, and Raimund Harmstorf
- Contains four films: The Black Stallion, The Call of the Wild, Lassie's Great Adventure, and The Legend of Cougar Canyon
Released by: GT Brands
Rating: NR to G
Anamorphic: No; all appear in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio
My Advice: Get it if you like animals or outdoor action
This collection of outdoor-themed films is a wonderful addition to any child's DVD collection, or for adults who want more plot and less sex in their entertainment.
Next is The Call of the Wild, an adaptation of the classic novel by Jack London. Buck the German shepherd is stolen from his beloved human and sold as a sled dog in the Klondike. His affection for his new owner is tested when they go prospecting alone during the 1898 Gold Rush. This version of the film was shot in Norway and makes grand use of the stunning scenery. The addition of Charlton Heston to the cast is also a bonus, but most of the rest of the cast is mediocre. If you're an animal lover, don't look too closely at some of the action; on the other hand, other scenes are rather obviously staged. Basically, this one is a mixed bag, but if you love dogs or rough scenery, then you will enjoy this one, and every American at least should see this one once. Mind the snow.
Third, we have Lassie's Great Adventure. In this film, the intrepid collie and his boy Timmy are tested by a hot-air balloon lost in a storm. Stuck in the Canadian wilderness alone, the boy and dog must hunt for food, battle the wildlife, and hopefully find their way home again. A special bonus here is fan favorite Richard Kiel as Chinook Pete, better known to movie-lovers as "Jaws" from the James Bond franchise. Jon Provost as little Timmy is more believable than many child actors, but of course it is the trained dog who steals the scenes.
Finally, there is the 1979 version of The Black Stallion, the classic film that earned Mickey Rooney his fourth Oscar nomination. This is the well-known and genuinely touching tale of the young jockey Alec Ramsey (Kelly Reno) who enters his stallion in France's biggest horse race. Thrown into the mix are a French jockey, crooked businessmen, and gamblers. Anyone who has ever loved a horse, or indeed any animal, will love this story for the relationship between Alec and his horse. At a time when it seems that every movie is trying to be grittier and more 'real' than the last, it's good to see films that just want to tell a good story with interesting characters, human or animal.
The audio and video quality are all about equal for each of these films, with the exception of The Legend of Cougar Canyon, which is a bit washed out and overly sunny, and maybe the occasional snow on the lens in The Call of the Wild. The colors are crisper than you might expect with non-digitally restored film stock this old, and the sound is about as good as a TV show of today, which is to say that the dialogue is plenty clear enough, and there are no problems.
None of these discs have any special features, which is a shame, but at least helps keep the cost down for the set. Sadly, as well, the films here are presented in a full-frame 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Granted, I only know for certain that Black Stallion originally had a widescreen version, but for any of them to not have whatever original aspect ratio they came with is a shame--markedly so for films about nature and the outdoors.
In short, animal lovers or anyone who loves majestic scenery and breathtaking views will enjoy this collection. While none of these films are perfect, they can hold their own with most of Hollywood's current releases, and can improve upon most of today's "child-friendly" entertainment, which are all too often toy commercials sold as movies. These are also fun movies for adults who want to revisit their childhood, or who just like a good outdoors adventure. Given that none of these films sacrifice their dignity to be "cute," most adults will be well-pleased to sit down with their kids (or by themselves) and enjoy these classic films.