In the 1950s through the 1980s the Adamsons (George and Joy) were popular figures for the conservation effort in Africa. One of the things they were most known for was the story of Elsa the lion. Joy’s stories of working with Elsa and other lions were eventually turned into series of three books with the first, Born Free, being released in 1960. Born Free was eventually adapted into a movie in 1966. Born Free was a success which lead to a franchise including a direct sequel (Living Free), a television series (Born Free), and a TV movie (Born Free: A New Adventure). As all but the last film were released quite a few years before I was born, I had never seen any of the films before. Born Free The Complete Collection is not going to be for everyone but it should entertain fans of nature films.
We would like to thank Mill Creek Entertainment for the review copy of Born Free The Complete Collection used for this review. Other than receiving the review copy we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation. Receiving the review copy had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.
The first film in the series (released in 1966) was Born Free, which was based on Joy Adamson’s book of the same name. In self defense George Adamson is forced to kill a lion that is threatening a local village. After killing the lion, George realizes that she was only trying to protect her three cubs. As the cubs no longer have anyone to take care of them, George and his wife Joy decide to take in the lion cubs to take care of them. Two of the lion cubs are eventually given to a zoo. The Adamsons develop a real attachment to the third lion cub (Elsa) though, so they decide to keep her. When Elsa starts causing damage to a neighboring village, they realize that they can no longer keep her. Not wanting to send Elsa to a zoo, the Adamsons try to give her the training required to live in the wild after spending so much time in their care. Will the Adamsons succeed in teaching Elsa how to fend for herself in the wild, or will she be forced to live in a zoo for the rest of her life?
I think the best way to describe Born Free is to say that it is a dramatized nature film. Most nature documentaries consist of showing footage of animals in the wild with a narrator giving the movie a plot or relaying relevant information to viewers. In some ways Born Free is a lot like a nature documentary. Born Free features a lot of nature footage typical of a nature documentary. There is actually a pretty good chance that some of the footage used in the film was from another nature documentary.
Where Born Free differs from nature documentaries is that it actually focuses quite a bit more on the actual plot. Born Free is based on a true story as the main events and characters in the film were real. I am not sure how accurate every single detail of the movie is, but the main elements of the movie do seem to be a pretty accurate depiction of what actually happened. This is to be expected as the film is based off the book written by Joy Adamson.
For the most part I found Born Free to be a solid film. A lot of the early parts of the movie involve the lion cubs interacting with humans and human objects. This leads to some pretty cute moments that animal lovers will really enjoy. The second half of the movie deals more with conservation efforts, as the Adamsons try to train Elsa to live in the wild on her own. This part of the film is more like your traditional nature documentary as it features a lot of footage of Elsa interacting with other lions and wildlife.
I would say that the only real issue I had with Born Free is that it can be a little slow from time to time. Being created back in the 1960s, this is to be expected as a lot of films from that era have some slow points. Most 1960s films were more laid back than recent films. Born Free is never going to be confused for an action film. There are times in the film where there isn’t a lot going on as the plot is pretty straightforward. Usually this is not a bad thing, but there are a few times in the movie where some footage could have been cut to shorten some of the slow points.
In the end Born Free is a pretty good animal/nature film. If you like animal/nature films, I think you will enjoy Born Free.
Released in 1972 (six years after the original film), Living Free is the direct sequel to the original Born Free. Living Free is actually based off of Joy Adamsons’ third book and takes place shortly after the original film. George and Joy have kept in touch with Elsa after releasing her into the wild at the end of the first movie. After Elsa gets sick and dies, her three cubs are left to fend for themselves. Without any other lions to help take care of them, the cubs struggle in the wild. The Adamsons decide that they need to try and teach them the skills needed to survive out in the wild. While teaching them the skills needed to survive, the Adamsons also need to find a way to transport them to a game preserve to keep them away from poachers and other dangers.
I find it kind of odd that despite Born Free being well received, it still took six years for a sequel to be produced. Due to the time between the films, it is not surprising that the two lead actors had to be replaced. The biggest impact this time between films had on Living Free though was that the filmmakers decided that audiences needed a refresher of the original film. Living Free spends most of the first ten to fifteen minutes recapping the original film. This made sense when the film was first released as VHS barely existed, so the only way to see a film again was to watch it in theaters. Therefore in the early 1970s it made sense to spend a little time recapping a film that people likely hadn’t seen in around six years. While this recap was necessary when the film was first made, now that you can watch the films back to back it feels kind of repetitive. This leads to Living Free starting off kind of slow.
Outside of the recap at the beginning, I would say that Living Free is quite a bit like the original film. I would say that it is slightly worse than the original film, but it is still a very solid animal/nature movie. Both films focus on conservation and trying to teach lion cubs how to survive on their own out in the wilderness after spending time around humans. Born Free focuses on teaching a lion how to survive in the wilderness. Living Free focuses more on helping young cubs survive on their own while transporting them to a new safer location. While the two movies share a lot in common, the two films are different enough that it doesn’t feel like they are just retelling the same story over again.
I would say that Living Free is a little worse than Born Free, but I still enjoyed it. If you enjoyed Born Free, I think you will enjoy Living Free as well.
Born Free The Complete Television Series
After the success of Born Free and Living Free, the Born Free franchise was expanded into a television show in 1974 by NBC. The premise behind the show was following George and Joy Adamson as they took care of Elsa the lion. In addition to taking care of Elsa, the show focused on the trials and tribulations of taking care of the animals in the region from natural and human dangers. The Born Free television series was not particularly successful as it only lasted for a total of thirteen episodes before it was canceled during its first season.
Born Free: A New Adventure
Thirty one years after the original Born Free was released, Born Free: A New Adventure aired on ABC in 1996. Born Free: A New Adventure is loosely based on the books and is somewhat a remake of the original film. Once again a lion cub by the name of Elsa is orphaned and is put in the care of Elanor and her daughter Val. Meanwhile a researcher from Chicago receives a grant to conduct some research in Africa and decides to take his two children, Rand and Gina, with him. Rand in particular has a really hard time adjusting to life in Africa. Things begin improving when he strikes up a friendship with Elsa and Val. When the local villages are put in danger due to Elsa’s presence though, Rand and Val are given an ultimatum. They have three weeks to train Elsa to be able to live in the wild or she will be sent to a zoo.
I will admit that before watching Born Free: A New Adventure I did not have high expectations for the film. A 1990s TV movie based on a popular film from the past that had little to do with the original movie. The signs were all pointing to the film being terrible. While I wouldn’t say that Born Free: A New Adventure is a terrible movie, it is not particularly good either. It is basically a very average to below average TV movie.
In a lot of ways the movie is like a lot of TV movies from the 1990s that was gauged more towards children/teens. I would say that the first half or so of the movie is almost exclusively focused on Rand and Gina adapting to life in Africa after growing up in Chicago. This involves a lot of complaining and sulking by Rand as he doesn’t like living in a country that is so different from what he is accustomed to. Like many of these type of movies from this era, the kids are also dealing with the recent death of their mother. The first half of the film relies on a lot of tropes from this genre of movies. Basically the first half of the movie is what you would expect from a 1990s children/teen/family TV movie.
At around the halfway point, the movie finally realizes that it has to explain its connection to the original Born Free. Born Free: A New Adventure ends up having very little to do with the original movie or even the books. The movie doesn’t even feature the characters of Joy or George Adamson. The only connection to the original source material is that the film briefly brings up Joy’s books that the films are based on. They then use the books to basically follow the same process they used to help Elsa adapt to living in the wild. The other loose connection between the two movies is that I am pretty certain that the film uses some of the exact same nature footage as the original film. I don’t know if this was meant to be an homage to the original film, or if they were just trying to save money. These situations are quite jarring though especially when you know that they are recycled footage.
At the end of the day I didn’t really care for Born Free: A New Adventure as it was considerably worse than the first two movies in the Born Free series. Instead of focusing on the nature aspects of training a lion to survive in the wild, the film wastes way too much time on a teenage boy adapting to living in Africa. Unless you are a big fan of 1990s children/teen TV movies, I would probably pass on Born Free: A New Adventure.
For the most part the video quality of the dvds is what you would expect from 1960s-1970s films and a 1990s TV movie. The video quality is fine as there are no real noticeable issues. The film quality somewhat shows its age though. Watching the older films you can tell that they were made in the 1960s and 1970s. Born Free: A New Adventure is considerably newer but it shows signs of being a 1990s TV movie. At the end of the day, you mostly get what you would expect from the video quality as it is not fantastic but it isn’t distracting either.
On the special features front, Born Free The Complete Collection unfortunately has no special features. While it would have been nice to have some special features for fans of the movies, I can’t say that I am surprised as I didn’t expect the film to have any special features. 1960s and 1970s movies really only get special features when they are quite popular. As no one had the foresight to see the rise of special features decades later, special features for older films can only be created by scrounging through old footage or setting up new interviews with people who worked on the film. The same can be said for 1990s TV movies. It is a little disappointing that the set has no special features but I can’t say that I am surprised. Therefore I can’t really blame the DVD set for not having any.
Should You Buy Born Free The Complete Collection?
The decision of whether you should purchase Born Free The Complete Collection comes down to whether you like nature films. If you don’t like nature films or don’t really care for the premise, I don’t think Born Free The Complete Collection is going to change your mind. If you have fond memories of the original movie or its sequel, I would recommend picking up the DVD set as you should enjoy some of the other movies as well. If you like nature films and think the concept of teaching lions how to survive in the wild sounds interesting, I think you will enjoy at least Born Free and Living Free. You might even get some enjoyment out of the television series and the TV movie.