So Dear To My Heart is likely to be a polarizing film. After watching it for the first time, I fell in love with this charming story. However, if you are one of those Disney fans/critics who does not enjoy the soft, charming and sentimental stories that Disney told in its earlier days, you will hate this movie. It is all about pulling on the heartstrings.
When that sort of thing is done well, it works greatly. For me, So Dear To My Heart worked beautifully, because it allowed me to relate to each and every character in the film. The film tells the story of Jeremiah Kincaid, a young boy living with his grandmother in the town of
. After a sheep in their barn gives birth to a black lamb, Jeremiah decides to raise the black lamb as a pet, to the chagrin of his Granny and most of the rest of the town. Fulton Corners
Interspersed with this little story of Jeremiah and his lamb are animated sequences that tell moral stories about history. We get the story of Christopher Columbus, for example, as a tale to remind us to be persistent. To be honest, the animated sequences are the worst part of the movie, because they don’t quite fit in with the rest of what’s going on around them. They’re well done, but seem shoehorned into an otherwise charming live action film.
Bobby Driscoll as Jeremiah plays essentially the same kind of role he did in Song of the South, that of a young boy looking to share his heart with someone (in this case some thing) that society says he should not. Luana Patten also reprises the same kind of role, that of a supportive friend. While both are fine, the stars of this film are Burl Ives as Uncle Hiram and Beulah Bondi as Granny.
The chemistry between these two is incredible, as can be seen in the cabin scene that is the core of the film. Uncle Hiram is playing an acoustic guitar and singing to entertain Granny, with the idea to convince her to let Jeremiah take his lamb, Danny, to the County Fair. The back and forth of their jabs, songs and smiles is one of the most entertaining sequences of Disney film I have ever seen.
There is no doubt that this is a sentimental film. If you can imagine a trick that the filmmakers would use to tug at your heartstrings, they probably do. However, it works. It doesn’t feel like a trick, because the story is so charming and doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a simple morality tale.
So Dear To My Heart is not high art. It’s not Oscar bait. But it does typify everything you want from a Disney film, and more specifically a Walt Disney film. The film obviously draws from Walt’s background in Marceline, as so many of his films did. It makes no bones about being fun, safe family entertainment with a lesson to impart, and that makes it feel authentic. I loved it, and can’t recommend it highly enough for fans of Walt and the old heartwarming formula of Disney films.