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movie review

TLO Film Review: Where the Red Fern Grows (2003)

6:30 AM EST on January 14, 2022

Back in the early aughts, polarizing musician Dave Matthews spent some time in Oklahoma filming this cinematic take on the famed novel Where the Red Fern Grows. While I was aware of the original version, I had no idea this one ever existed, despite a distribution deal with Walt Disney that should have blanketed it everywhere.

Regardless, the overabundance of Matthews made me enter into this as more of a tepid joke than an actual film, which, admittedly, was an absolute mistake on my part. Despite its various problems, Where the Red Fern Grows is a remarkably sweet tribute to the ultimate proof of God’s love: dogs, dogs, and more dogs.

Here, it’s Old Dan and Little Ann, two lovable hounds that are ordered by young Billy (Joseph Ashton) out of the back of a catalog. Living on a Depression Era farm in Oklahoma, as the family is hurting for money, Billy trains the dogs to hunt raccoons for their skins, which I assume was the old-timey equivalent of selling copies of Grit. Kids still sell that door-to-door, right?

Luckily, Old Dan and Little Ann are two of the best dogs anyone has ever seen, so Billy enters them in a raccoon hunt which they technically lose because they’re saving the life of his grandfather…is there anything these dogs can’t do? I love them so much!

Of course, instead of traveling with the family to Tulsa like they should have, both dogs (spoiler alert) die in the most heartbreaking of ways: one in a mountain lion attack – imagine how much fun the local media would have had with that one – and, a few days later, the other of a broken heart. As that happened, I was a sobbing mass of fetid tears on the floor, holding my own pup close as he stared at the screen in canine disbelief.

I know that I can say controversial things here, but this might be the most controversial thing I’ve ever said: fuck mountain lions!

Flatly filmed in the beautiful backwoods of Tahlequah, Wagoner, and Cookson Hills, the film actually does have a well-cast bit of support players that includes Mac Davis, Ned Beatty, Kris Kristofferson and, in an absolute surprise to me, Dabney Coleman as a grandpa that I can firmly believe in. Heck, Matthews really isn’t all that bad either. Only you could do that, Where the Red Fern Grows!

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Follow Louis on Twitter at @LouisFowler and Instagram at @louisfowler78.

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