The Incredible Journey (1963)

The Incredible Journey (film)

The Incredible Journey

Released: 1963

Rated: G

Length: 80 min

Age: 3+

Scary Factor: various dangerous situations for animals are rather tamely presented, not disturbing at all, and no notable injuries are sustained; cat is swept away in river but later rescued; a man shoots at dog rummaging in garbage can, but mainly to scare him away; cat is chased by a lynx but escapes

Interests: pets, cats, dogs, wilderness, nature, Canada, adventure

Next: read the book The Incredible Journey

Three pets – two dogs and a cat – set out across two hundred miles of Ontario wilderness to return to their family.

If you’ve read the book The Incredible Journey, this film is pretty faithful to the original story. If anything it’s actually less scary than the book (a movie that’s tamer than the book??), mainly because the animals are not shown to be injured. In the novel for example, Bodger gets scratched up pretty badly from the bear cub’s claws, whereas in the movie he’s merely annoyed by the little cubs. And Luath’s imbedded porcupine quills become extremely painful and infected in the book, whereas in the movie they poke out rather cleanly and plucked out rather soon after by a friendly human. Presumably it would have been too difficult to film actual injuries to the animals in the days before computer effects.

What makes this movie suitable for very young children is precisely what may make it tedious for older kids and grownups: rather undramatic threats, hokey narration, stiff acting from the human characters, and the clunkiest dialogue you’ve ever heard. It’s an old-fashioned flick, restrained and a little corny. The ending in which the children are joyfully reunited with their pets should be pretty satisfying for young viewers.

If you grew up watching “nature” on TV via The Wonderful World of Disney, this film will have some nostalgia for you. I think the folksy narrator is the same one used in all of those shorts, but thankfully none of the animals messes up anyone’s cabin. (I seem to recall that the star raccoon, squirrel, otter, skunk, or what-have-you would always find his way into a human home and upend a bag of flour, for maximum mess.)

If you can relax your need for snappy repartee and ramped up emotions – recent movies crank up the anxiety and fear with special effects and heart-stopping music – this movie is a gentle, simple treat. The humans may be a little two-dimensional, but the three animal heroes of the piece are more than engaging. And what won me over is the fact that the animals are not anthropomorphized and don’t speak. How refreshing is that??!

NB. Disney made a newer remake of this story involving talking animals who utter nonstop smartass dialogue: Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993).

P.S. One interesting element in this film (being a product of its time) is that hunting is presented in a matter-of-fact way as something that humans do and enjoy, and guns seem to be everywhere. In fact the lynx is chased off by a fairly young fellow with a gun.

(available at amazon.com)

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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.