Disney Film History: The Light in the Forest

light in the forest

What does Hawaii Five-O have in common with Davy Crockett? Only one connection! In 1958 there was a change at the Disney studio. After a good run of western films starring Fess Parker, including the cultural phenomenon of Davy Crockett, the studio was looking to take it’s live action films in a new direction. Like the previous film, Old Yeller, Disney looked to a popular book at the time for it’s last Western starring Parker along with a newcomer that would eventually star in Hawaii Five-O, James McArthur. Written by Conrad Richter in 1953, The Light in the Forest brings a race war to the big screen in a much more serious tone than other fictional or historical films before it.

The Light in the Forest is an interesting film built on showcasing a peace treaty between Delaware Indians who had white captives. The treaty would allow these captives to be set free and go back home but one boy, named True Son when part of the natives, reluctantly rejoins his white family as Johnny Butler. He falls in love with a girl and after seeing his two families, native and white, turn against each other, he and his love interest run off to land he was given and the war is never resolved.

light in the forest 2

I can’t begin to explain the Native American-White American issues in this film and how they may resemble the African American-White American issues of the 1950s and how this film can be seen as a deeper look at that. I doubt Conrad Richter or Walt Disney had any idea that they were showcasing the race issues that plagued the “West” had glided over into the 20th century in a different way. Watching The Light in the Forest and seeing how negotiations between the Natives and the White Americans escalated into a war was eerie, knowing that the Civil Rights movement was on the verge of breaking through and that there would be many casualities in the movement toward equality.

light in the forest 3

The film debuted on July 8th, 1958 and it won critics and audiences over. It was praised for it’s serious tone as well as it’s performances, especially by newcomer McArthur who would continue on to work with Disney in the future! It marks the end of another era at the Disney studios with a bang. There will be other ends by the end of the 1950s at the Disney studio. Despite it’s lack of popularity today, I suggest finding a way to see this film as the performances as well as the message and tone stack up against films of today, it just seems like it got lost somewhere in the shuffle of so many live action films in the 1950s.

Josh Taylor
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Previous Film: Old Yeller
Next Film: White Wilderness

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Posted on May 20, 2015, in Articles, The Whole Picture and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

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