In all my time watching Disney films, I had never seen So Dear To My Heart before. For that and other reasons I sat down to watch it with great interest. After all, here was a film that was produced in 1948, the very early days of live action at the Disney studio. It had some animated pieces as well as live action, but for such an early film in the Disney live action canon, I had heard very little about it.
That’s a real shame, because So Dear To My Heart is not only an important film in Disney history, it’s a great one as well. This is a movie that tugs at your heartstrings; it makes you cry, laugh and smile – sometimes all in the same sequence. Sure, it’s not original or very inventive, but watching this movie will show you where all the fun Disney sentimentality of future films came from.
The basic story of this film follows Jeremiah Kincaid, a young boy who lives on a farm with his grandmother. One of their sheep gives birth to a black lamb but refuses to nurse it, so Jeremiah adopts the lamb as a pet, much to the dismay of Granny. The film follows Jeremiah’s struggles to keep the lamb under control and training it to become a champion lamb at the County Fair.
The actors in this film make it so appealing. Bobby Driscoll, who starred in so many of the early Disney films, plays Jeremiah with wide eyed innocence that you can’t help but love. Luana Patten, also a Disney veteran, plays his sidekick, Tildy, and is also a charming young girl. But it’s the performances of the adults, Burl Ives as Uncle Hiram and Beulah Bondi as Granny that makes the movie so memorable.
Burl Ives is probably best known for his role as the narrator of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, but his work here, singing happy, made up songs and crooning to Granny to ease her anxiety, is fantastic. Beulah Bondi, whom you might know as Ma Smith from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington or Ma Bailey from It’s A Wonderful Life, is fabulous as Granny. She manages to be a tough parent figure for Jeremiah without completely being unsympathetic. It really is a masterful performance.
This film was important to the Disney company in so many ways. Have you ever been to One Man’s Dream at Disney’s Hollywood Studios? There you’ll see a replica of Granny’s cabin from this film that Walt Disney himself built. The fun he had doing that inspired him to create a series of miniatures, with the idea that they would tour the country. That idea, Disneylandia, never happened, but it evolved into Disneyland! The railroad depot from this movie was designed by legendary animator Ward Kimball, and Walt gave it to him as a gift when the movie was over. Walt liked it so much that he built a replica at Disneyland for the Frontierland Depot.
So Dear To My Heart features some truly touching and memorable moments, and is unabashedly sentimental. It’s characters aren’t filled with angst and strife, but instead are living their lives with the hand they have been dealt. It’s a great message to kids and adults alike, and the fact that it went on to inspire such great things like Disneyland shows me how much this film meant to Disney.