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Big Red DVD Review

"Big Red" (1962) movie poster Big Red

Theatrical Release: June 6, 1962 / Running Time: 89 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: Norman Tokar / Writers: Jim Kjelgaard (novel), Louis Pelletier (screenplay)

Cast: Walter Pidgeon (James Haggin), Gilles Payant (Rene Dumont), Emile Genest (Emile Fornet), Janette Bertrand (Therese Fornet), Georges Bouvier (Baggageman)

Buy Anchor Bay DVD from Amazon.com Get Big Red from the Disney Movie Club Buy DMC Exclusive DVD from Amazon.com


Big Red doesn't offer much beyond a standard boy-and-dog film.
Adapted from a series of books by Jim Kjelgaard, this low-key 1962 drama neither tugs at your strings like Old Yeller did earlier nor provides intermittent laughs like The Biscuit Eater would later. To the film's advantage, there is a plot beyond the standard "adolescent and his puppy" elements, which saves it from being entirely commonplace.

Rene is a young, heavily-accented French boy who is looking for work. He gets employed by a wealthy individual named James Haggin, and takes a liking towards Big Red, the dog that Haggin is training to become a prize show dog. Rene is having too much fun going out on adventures with Red, and when it's time for the big show, Red is reliant upon the familiarity of his friend Rene.

Shh! Listen to my French accent! Rene (Gilles Payant) and Big Red enjoy a sitdown.

So Haggin orders that the dog is not to see the boy. Rene is saddened and goes to say goodbye to him. This results in disaster, and Rene can't stand to stay away from his canine friend.

Big Red doesn't offer much in the way of thrills or laughs, but as a simple drama, there's just enough plot to keep you watching and engaged. Perhaps it is most noteworthy for being the first Disney film (and first feature film of any kind) directed by Norman Tokar, who would be behind a number of Disney films over the next two decades including The Happiest Millionaire and The Apple Dumpling Gang.

Buy Big Red (Widescreen Edition) DVD from Amazon.com Marketplace DVD Details

1.85:1 Non-anamorphic Widescreen
1.33:1 Reformatted Fullscreen
Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Closed Captioned
Release Date: May 21, 2002
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Out of Print

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VIDEO and AUDIO

Initially released on a dual-format disc with both letterboxed widescreen and fullscreen, Big Red, like many Anchor Bay titles, was reissued merely as a Fullscreen-only disc. Unfortunately, that's what I got stuck with for this rental.

The reformatted transfer appeared to be open matte, so framing issues didn't plague the film much. The "full frame" transfer offers a tiny bit of additional picture on top and bottom, and crops out a tiny bit on the sides. The picture quality was unspectacular, though. It just didn't have the sharpness and vibrancy that the Vault Disney remasters and certain other well-transferred selections from Disney's live action '60s canon exhibit on DVD.

Letterboxed screencap courtesy of Mark Probst The same frame in Full Frame

Blame can't really go to Anchor Bay, as I'm sure they put as much (if not more) effort as Disney would have. The result is just not particularly satisfactory.

The audio is Dolby Mono, and it's somewhat lifeless. Dialogue is understandable (aside from the heavily-accented French boy), but it's flat and dull, not entirely unlike the film itself. It's not material that exactly screams out for a 5.1 remix or anything, but a bit of remastering could help.

Rene looks up to two-time 1940s Oscar nominee Walter Pidgeon, who plays James Haggin. Big Red's complex DVD Main Menu

EXTRAS

Nothing at all on the disc, though like other Anchor Bay releases, there's a nice thick-stock insert reproduction of Big Red's original theatrical poster.

Big Red and Rene run through a field of daffodils.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

As far as live action '60s films go, Big Red is just okay. Those who prefer drama will probably label this "beautiful." Those who prefer cutting-edge drama will probably pass it off as kiddie fare. Nonetheless, it lacks both the flair of flashy comedies like The Love Bug and the heart of a light drama such as Follow Me, Boys!. As this is now out of print, and the widescreen edition particularly challenging to find, you'll probably want to wait for Disney to reissue it in a fashion similar to Anchor Bay's release. I wouldn't recommend going out of your way (or budget) to track this down.

Buy this widescreen Anchor Bay DVD from Amazon Marketplace / Get Big Red from the Disney Movie Club Buy DMC DVD on Amazon

Buy the Widescreen Edition from Amazon.com Marketplace

Related Reviews:
Other Films Directed by Norman Tokar:
Those Calloways (1965) Follow Me, Boys! (1966) Rascal (1969) Snowball Express (1972) The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975)

Other Disney Dog Films:
Old Yeller & Savage Sam (1957, 1963) Greyfriars Bobby (1961) 101 Dalmatians (1961)
The Biscuit Eater (1972) Benji the Hunted (1987) Oliver & Company (1988) Teacher's Pet (2004)

Other 1960s Disney Films:
The Parent Trap (1961) Bon Voyage! (1962) Mary Poppins (1964)
Swiss Family Robinson (1960) Blackbeard's Ghost (1968) The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969)

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Reviewed April 1, 2004.