TCM’s Treasures from the Disney Vault celebrates its 9th evening of all-Disney entertainment on Wednesday, December 21st. Being the third December programming lineup, this one abandons winter and the holidays and instead shines a light on Disney’s treasure trove of animal films. It’s no secret that Walt Disney was passionate about nature conservation, but many modern audiences forget that he was responsible for the nature documentary genre. While we won’t see any of the True-Life Adventures series in tonight’s lineup, we will celebrate their legacy with the films that followed in its wake. Starting with the one-and-only True-Life Fantasy, the night has a lot to offer. From a true classic Old Yeller, to a Dean Jones comedy The Ugly Dachshund, and one of the most fondly remembered Wonderful World of Color specials, there’s a lot to love in this evening’s programming lineup.

8:00 PM - Perri (1957)

The True-Life Adventure series had won critics and audiences over since its debut in 1948, but by the end of the 1950’s the series had begun to run its course and Walt’s vision had shifted more towards scripted storytelling with animals. While it is true that some of the True-Life Adventures featured staged action, the studio was about to shift towards all-staged animal action. The first in the series was also the only one to be branded as a True-Life Fantasy with 1957’s Perri.

Welcome to Wildwood Heart, a charming section of the forest where young Perri is born. After losing her family, Perri must find her own method of survival in the wilderness. In her quest for a mate, Perri will travel through all of the seasons with some beautiful winter landscapes.

While the story centers on Perri, a good portion of the picture is spent on other animals, such as foxes, raccoons and skunks, the other citizens of Wildwood Heart. The film is based on a book by Felix Saltin, author of Bambi, and even features a not-so-subtle homage to the great prince of the forest. Produced, written and narrated by Winston Hibler, the film is also notable for being one of the films that Roy E. Disney worked on.

Recommendation: Perri offers an early look at the successful Disney animal films that came later, but is often boring and quite forgettable. 

9:30 PM - Old Yeller (1958)

One of Disney’s most beloved live action films, Old Yeller introduced the world to Tommy Kirk and Kevin Corcoran, who would spend the majority of their childhoods on camera in Disney productions. Almost all of the exterior shots were filmed at Golden Oak Ranch, which Walt Disney purchased shortly after. But the film is most famous for its shocking ending, which still brings me to tears every time I see it.

On the verge of manhood, young Arliss has to support his mom and younger brother while his father is away. But when a stray dog creates mischief for the boy, he soon becomes a friend and source of joy for the family. But Arliss’ strength is put to the test when Old Yeller contracts rabies while saving the family from a wild wolf .

With a beautiful theme song and some powerful performances, it’s not hard to see why Old Yeller has become a classic while so many other films of its ilk have been lost to time. Dorothy McGuire is so charming as the mom and Fess Parker, TV’s Davy Crockett, has a small role as the mostly absent father. If you watched September’s pirate-themed Treasure’s from the Disney Vault, you may also recognize Jeff York from Davy Crockett and the River Pirates. But the real start is Spike, who played the unforgettable Old Yeller.

Recommendation: Old Yeller is the highlight of the entire evening, don’t miss it!

11:15 pm - The Littlest Outlaw (1955)

In addition to Walt Disney’s love of animals, he also loved to travel and explore other cultures. To those familiar with his goodwill tour of South America in the 1940’s and the People & Places series, The Littlest Outlaw won’t come as a huge surprise. To anyone else who may believe the picture of a racist Disney, this film should be eye opening.

Filmed in Mexico twice in both English and Spanish and with an almost entirely Mexican cast, The Littlest Outlaw is as authentic as it could possibly be. The films primary themes also deal with animal cruelty and doing what is right vs. what is legal.

Pablito is the son of a horse trainer, who is cruel with his training methods. When his favorite horse injures the general’s daughter, he steals Conquistador and runs away to save the poor animal from being put down. Now an outlaw, he and the horse will have to count on the kindness of strangers to stay alive.

Recommendation: The Littlest Outlaw is a perfect example of Walt Disney being a man ahead of his times and tells a very sweet story about a boy and his horse. Give this one a chance.

12:45 AM – Silly Symphonies About Animals

The animated portion of the night features two classic Silly Symphonies. First up is one of the most iconic, The Tortoise and the Hare from 1935. It’s the timeless fable of “Slow and steady wins the race” as only Disney could tell it. Toby Tortoise and Max Hare quickly became stars in their own right, with merchandise, comics and even sequels. The short won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short that year and quite a few critics have drawn similarities between Max Hare and Bugs Bunny, who debuted five years later. This short was so iconic that many of its characters can be seen in the Toontown finale of Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

The second Silly Symphony might surprise fans expecting a colorized version with more sophisticated animation. That’s because The Ugly Duckling was remade in 1939 and that is the more beloved version. This black and white earlier version from 1931 is more akin to the barnyard animals found in the early Mickey Mouse shorts and emphasizes gags over heart. It’s the only Silly Symphony to ever be remade, but the original still has its merits. However, it is a shame that there wasn’t room in the programming block to show both versions back-to-back. But this is a perfect lead-in to the next feature of the night, which also drew inspiration from Hans Christian Anderson.

Recommendation: You can’t miss the only animated portion of the night!

The night is only halfway through. Proceed to the next page for the rest of the lineup.