Today our Forgotten Disney post gives us a lovable Disney animal, but not the animated sort. It’s 1967’s “Charlie the Lonesome Cougar.” Today’s guest reviewer is the Retro Hound, Robert Lindsey.
Robert Lindsey runs the blog RetroHound.com. By day he’s an academic librarian in the great state of Kansas. He is happily married for 20 years and has 4 boys, was in the US Army, has flipped burgers, sold auto parts, been a campus minister, and washed headstones at a national cemetery. He started watching old movies as a kid and has never lost his passion for them. He would love to watch them and review them and read reviews about them for a living. That, and buy and sell old stuff like records, books, automobilia, and anything that strikes his fancy. He says, “I have way too many hobbies, way too many interests, and, according to my wife, way too many collections….and a 1958 Pontiac Bonneville (389, 4-speed, tri-power).”
Charlie the Lonesome Cougar
“Charlie the Lonesome Cougar” is one of those pleasant Disney shows narrated by Rex Allen in his soothing, slightly amused voice. Shot in an almost documentary looking film stock (the director Winston Hibler directed several of Disney’s nature documentaries), Charlie is appropriate for kids and adults of all ages, but it’s not fast paced, so it’s best to show it to them before they’ve been ruined by the Disney Channel. However, anyone who likes to watch animals frolic around (and that is everyone, right?) should enjoy it.
The story is about a young cougar cub that’s orphaned, then found by a logger named Jess Bradley. Jess names the cub Good Time Charlie and raises him like a pet. Charlie becomes familiar with the lumber yard and the folks around accept him, except for a Jack Russell Terrier named Chainsaw. Charlie is still young and is rather tame, so even though he could with one whap of the paw tell Chainsaw to leave him alone, he doesn’t do it, instead he runs. This turns into trouble when the lumber company is getting ready for a “river drive” which is when they put 60 million feet of lumber(!) into the river to float downstream. Charlie runs from Chainsaw onto a boat just as it’s taking off and gets into trouble. This trouble reverberates down the river culminating in the destruction of the kitchen raft at a log jam.
After that happens, Jess’ boss tells him to keep Charlie home. Charlie doesn’t like staying in a glorified screened-in porch and when he hears a female cougar in the vicinity, being the teenager he is now, he busts out and takes off after her. Then Charlie is on his own for a while and there is lots of footage of animals interacting. How do they get the animals to do these things? Do they just film stuff and then write the script to match; or just keep filming until it’s close to what they want?
At one point, the young Charlie gets to playing with a bear cub and after a while they take a nap in a log. This log happens to be the favorite log of a big ol’ bachelor bear who loves it for finding grubs and such. As an example of Rex Allen’s melodious narrative style, he says the bachelor bear “didn’t like the Beat generation making a pad out of his pantry.”
Charlie is gone for quite a while growing up and getting wild again. Eventually he accidentally finds his way back to the lumber yard, but he barely remembers the place. He gets trapped in the kitchen pantry overnight then in the morning Chainsaw starts chasing him so the cougar goes wild. Eventually he gets trapped in an elevator and the men are ready to shoot him, but Jess recognizes him and stops them. He talks Charlie back to a calm state and takes him out to a wildlife refuge deep in the Cascade Mountains.
“Charlie the Lonesome Cougar” is a leisurely paced movie that’s perhaps a bit corny, and the actors all have very short resumes (some only this one film), but as my four boys (ages 10-16) watched it again last night we all were laughing and completely enjoying it. One thing that differentiates these older forgotten films is how they avoid the mushy forced sentimentalism of movies like Free Willy. Just sit back, relax and enjoy the show. Highly recommended.