Jerry (Bobby Driscoll) lives a fairly Spartan existence with his stern but soft-hearted grandmother (Beulah Bondi) on a small farm. Granny and Jerry have little in the way of "extras," but Jerry has a happy life nonetheless, where he enjoys the wonder of something as simple as feeding an apple to the Great Dan Patch when a train carrying the famous racehorse makes a rest stop in his tiny town.
Jerry falls in love with a black lamb rejected by its mother and raises him. The lamb, called Danny, manages to get into a fair amount of trouble, but Jerry loves him so much that Granny can't bring herself to get rid of the lamb. Eventually Jerry hatches a plan with Uncle Hiram Douglas (Burl Ives) and his friend Tildy (Luana Patten) to enter Danny at the Pike County Fair.
Harry Carey Sr., in his final film, plays the judge at the fair; he passed away in September 1947. It's a small but effective role. The voice of John Beal, as the adult Jerry, narrates the film.
This is a simple story, yet it's filled with evocative and memorable moments, whether it's the children running carefree through a field, Uncle Hiram singing "Lavender Blue," or Granny finding Jerry asleep in the barn with his arm cast protectively over Danny. The cast is never anything less than note-perfect. The children's delight when Granny and Uncle Hiram sing "Billy Boy" seems quite genuine, providing another delightful moment.
Bobby Driscoll and Luana Patten had appeared two years previously in Disney's SONG OF THE SOUTH (1946), and like SONG OF THE SOUTH, SO DEAR TO MY HEART is a blend of live action and animation. Jerry keeps scrapbooks filled with colorful advertisements and postcards which come to life as animated cartoons, entertaining and encouraging him. The vintage "look" and seasons depicted in some of the animation sequences call to mind MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944), set in the same time period.
Driscoll was a superb, natural child actor with a very expressive face. Driscoll also gave a remarkably fine performance in a film released just after SO DEAR TO MY HEART, THE WINDOW (1949). He would also star in Disney's TREASURE ISLAND (1950) and provide the voice of the title character in PETER PAN (1953). His early death in 1968, at the age of 31, was a sad postscript to a bright early career.
Luana Patten, of Long Beach, California, appeared in several Disney films. In addition to SONG OF THE SOUTH and SO DEAR TO MY HEART, she was in FUN AND FANCY FREE (1947) and MELODY TIME (1948). Nearly a decade after SO DEAR TO MY HEART, Patten appeared as Cilla in Disney's JOHNNY TREMAIN (1957).
SMOKY (1946), followed by GREEN GRASS OF WYOMING (1948) and STATION WEST (1948). Ives was a natural on the screen and adds a lot to the film as a supportive adult in young Jerry's life.
"Lavender Blue," sung by Ives' character to Granny and the children, was nominated for an Oscar as Best Song. Another of the film's songs, "County Fair," was cowritten by Mel Torme. Several of the songs were performed by Ken Carson of the Sons of the Pioneers. Carson is backed by The Rhythmaires, who also sang in Disney's THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW (1949) and THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS (1949). Ken Darby served as the film's vocal director.
Cinematographer Winton C. Hoch had won an Oscar for his film released just before SO DEAR TO MY HEART, JOAN OF ARC (1948), and he would win again for SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (1949) and THE QUIET MAN (1952). He shot SO DEAR TO MY HEART in Technicolor near Porterville, California.
This weekend at Destination D we heard that a building from the film ended up as a "shed" in animator-Imagineer Ward Kimball's backyard. Google led to some pictures of the film's small train depot. Today the building is owned by Pixar's John Lasseter.
A 2011 Disneyland exhibit of Mary Blair art featured a proposed design she created for the film's opening credits, seen in the photograph at the left. However, the credits ended up being against the backdrop of a quilt (seen above). Blair worked on the cartoon sequences along with many other Disney animation greats, including Les Clark, John Hench, Milt Kahl, Eric Larson, John Lounsbery, and several others. The animated sequences include a darling black lamb and a Scottish spider who dances a memorable multi-legged Highland jig.
The movie was directed by Harold Schuster and Hamilton Luske. The screenplay by John Tucker Battle was based on the book MIDNIGHT AND JEREMIAH by Sterling North (RASCAL).
SO DEAR TO MY HEART is available on DVD in a Disney Movie Club edition which can be obtained as a premium from the Disney Movie Rewards Club or purchased via Amazon vendors. It was also released in a Gold Collection DVD in 2002, which is now out of print.
The film had a 1995 release on VHS, and it can be rented for streaming from Amazon Instant Video.