Born Free on DVD
This is definitely an oldie, but its also a goodie -
especially if youre an animal fan in general or a cat lover in
If only it were a better DVD
Born Free is the true story of Joy Adamson and her husband George
and their relationship with Elsa, a born wild lion cub (though the word
kitten probably applies better) who with her sisters was orphaned
when George was forced to shoot her mother and father.
Joy (joyfully played by Virginia McKenna) is forced,
though not very reluctantly, to raise these kittens in order to save their
lives. The little critters arent even weaned when they first
come into her and Georges (Bill Travers) lives so their first task is to
find a formula that theyll accept from a baby bottle.
As it turns out, it may not be the formula but the loving contact
the kittens needed, because when they get to the 17th version of their test
formula George hits on the idea of spreading the milky stuff onto Joys
hand and seeing if that helps.
It does. The first kitten responds immediately and licks
Joys hand clean (in a yecchy kind of way!) then heads straight for the
The rest, as they say, is history - at least for a good while.
Were treated to some wonderful scenes of the kittens growing
up, acting like kittens that could be like those in any cat
owners home today except for the size of the lovable
critters. These scenes are a cat lovers delight, and this die hard cat
lover of a reviewer was moved to tears of joy upon watching them (and was so
affected that the tears are reappearing as this is written, in a most
unmasculine way - dammit!).
But kids grow up and lion kids grow up to be really big cats with
all the troubles that can represent. So Joy and George are reluctantly forced
to donate these adorable cats to a zoo - but by the time they get to Nairobi
airport Joy cant stand to see them put on a plane and goes shopping to
avoid the painful goodbye.
George, the perceptive and loving husband that he is, has a
surprise for Joy on the trip home: hes kept her favorite, Elsa, behind
and Joys joy is complete.
Flash forward until Elsa is no longer a kitten and the problems
are multiplied until theyre forced to either send Elsa to a zoo, where
shell be miserable, or try the unprecedented task of teaching her to be a
real lion and live free among her kind.
This is a heartbreaking process full of disappointment as this
beautiful creature repeatedly fails to learn the ways of her ilk - almost to
the point of her own destruction.
But all isnt lost and in the end Born Free is a triumphant
tale that lets us experience the best of both worlds.
McKenna and Travers are very good as Joy and George Adamson,
especially McKenna (George is mostly along for the ride, since this is
Joys and Elsas story). But they both take a back seat to the lions,
especially the one playing Elsa, of course. The feline performances are amazing
(Elsa was played by Girl, Mara and Henrietta), and make you wonder how the heck
they got lions to do all this stuff (including standing there a letting a
warthog bash its head repeatedly into her).
And mention must be made of the Oscar-winning score by the great
John Barry, including the Oscar-winning title song.
The DVD falls down in the video department, but Columbia Tristar
has wisely swum against the current tide by offering anamorphic widescreen and
Pan&Scan versions on the same disc, accessible from the main menu. This is
the way it should be, or at least both aspect ratios should be offered on
opposite sides of the same disc or as a second disc in the same box.
So Bravo to Columbia Tristar for this.
Alas, the movie could benefit from a loving restoration, not just
a digital remastering such as was done for this DVD release. While the
close-ups look fine, many of the longer shots suffer from grain and this is too
bad. Still, the colors are good and this comes in handy with the African
backdrop where Born Free was filmed.
Audio is Dolby Digital mono and is unremarkable.
Extras are limited to trailers for this film, its sequels, and
Fly Away Home.
Born Free, from Columbia Tristar Home Video
95 min. anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 TV compatible / Pan&Scan
(4x3 TV compatible), Dolby Digital mono
Starring Virginia McKenna, Bill Travers, with Geoffrey Keen
Produced by Sam Jaffe & Paul Radin
Written by Gerald L. C.
Copley, Directed by James Hill
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