Where the Red Fern Grows (2003 film)

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Where the Red Fern Grows
Directed by Lyman Dayton
Sam Pillsbury
Produced by David Alexanian
George Dayton
William J. Immerman
Shelley Monson
Bob Yari
Screenplay by Doug C. Stewart
Eleanor Lamb
Lyman Dayton
Sam Pillsbury
Based on Where the Red Fern Grows by
Wilson Rawls
Starring Joseph Ashton
Dave Matthews
Ned Beatty
Dabney Coleman
Music by Jeff Cardoni
Cinematography James Jansen
Edited by Paul Trejo
Distributed by Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Release date
Running time
86 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Where the Red Fern Grows is a 2003 family adventure film based on the children's book of the same name by Wilson Rawls. Directed by Lyman Dayton and Sam Pillsbury, it follows the story of Billy Colman who buys and trains two Redbone Coonhound hunting dogs to hunt raccoons in the Ozark mountains. The film stars Joseph Ashton, Dave Matthews, Ned Beatty and Dabney Coleman.


An older Billy Coleman rescues a beagle from attack by another neighborhood dog. He takes it home with him so that its wounds can heal. In light of this event, he has a flashback to when he was a ten-year-old boy living in the Ozark mountains.

Growing up in the Ozarks with his parents and two younger sisters, Billy wants to own a pair of hunting dogs but his parents tell him that they can't afford them. He tries going to his grandfather when he learns that he's selling a Bluetick coonhound outside his store, but his rivals, the Pritchards, beat him to it. After they leave, Billy tells his grandfather that he believes that God doesn't want him to have any dogs. His grandfather replies that maybe it's because Billy's not doing his fair share of the deal, and if he wants His help, he has to meet Him half ways. At first, he doesn't understand what that means, but after coming across an article in a sportsman magazine offering a pair of Redbone coonhounds in Kentucky for $25 each, he finally understands what his grandfather meant and decides to earn the money himself.

For two years, he works many different jobs, and manages to save $50. When he reveals the money to his grandfather and tells him he understood what he meant, his grandfather is amazed by Billy's hard work. When he asks if he ever told his father, he reveals that he never knew, believing that his father would use the money to get a new mule, which is something he is in deep need of, if he ever knew about the money. Inspired by Billy's hard work, his grandfather guarantees that Billy will get his hounds.

For many days, Billy desperately awaits for the day to come that his dogs would eventually come. When his father tells Billy that his grandfather has something for him, Billy immediately runs off to his grandfather's store, only to discover that the dogs were delivered to Tahlequah, not to his store. Billy is discouraged, but his grandfather tells him to not worry, that he can get a ride in a week from that day. He also gives Billy his change of $10, telling him that prices are going down on everything due to the depression. However, Billy is convinced that his pups won't last that long, and sneaks out the following night to walk down to Tahlequah himself to get his dogs.

After many hours, he finally reaches Tahlequah by daylight, and gets his dogs. However, a group of classist boys start ganging up on Billy. When one of them start abusing one of his dogs by pulling on its ear, Billy warns him to stay away. However, the boy challenges him to a fight, which results in a fallout between Billy and the boys. Suddenly, the sheriff shows up and breaks up the fight, and orders the boys to leave. He tends to the beat up Billy, and compliments his dogs. He is amazed by how Billy got his dogs, and he befriends him. With $10 left over, he decides to go shopping for his family; his father a pair of new overalls, his mother some sewing cloth to make dresses, and some candy for his two little sisters. Before he leaves, the Sheriff buys Billy a soda, something he's never had before.

Finally, Billy begins his trip home. During the night, he senses something coming in the bushes. Hidden, he briefly sees the face of a mountain lion, but before it can come out and attack, Billy grabs a branch, lights it on fire, and uses it to scare it away. The next morning, Billy sees a heart carved in a tree that says "Dan Loves Ann" in it, and decides to name his dogs Old Dan and Little Ann.


Differences between the film and the book[edit]

While the book and 1974 film version depict Billy Coleman to have long blond hair, the Billy Coleman in the 2003 film has short, dark brown hair.

The novel depicted the coon hunting competition to last about six nights, whereas the two film versions place it at four nights.

In the novel and 1974 film version, Billy Coleman, his dogs, and the two Pritchard boys Rainie and Rubin hunt for the legendary ghost coon at night, but in the 2003 film, they hunt for the ghost coon at daylight. Also, the 2003 film placed the boys' betted money at five dollars, while the 1974 film and novel, place the money at two dollars.

In the 2003 film, when Billy and his hounds encounter the mountain lion, Billy and Little Ann chase away the lion after it fatally injured Old Dan. In the novel and 1974 film version, Billy kills the mountain lion with his axe to save Old Dan.

Old Dan's death is much more graphic and gory in the book, which involved his intestines being torn out, trying to fix him back up, and dying the next day. In the 2003 film, we just see Old Dan struggle to get up and we only see a giant gash in his hip. Billy pets him and tells him it's going to be alright, but the scene transitions to the next day where it is revealed Old Dan didn't survive when it is seen that he is being buried.

Before Billy gets his dogs, he learns his grandpa is selling a Bluetick coonhound. He goes to see him, however, the Pritchards buy him before he can, just to be mean to Billy. This scene never happens in the book.

Rubin's death is much more violent, graphic and prolonged in the book. In the movie, we only see him trip facedown, hear him let out a terrible scream. As Rainie runs off to get his father, Billy runs over to him and flips him over, and looks in horror as he sees the axe sticking out of Rubin's body.

In this film, when Billy finds the ghost coon, he admits to the Pritchard boys that they were right and he was wrong. In the novel and 1974 film version, he tells them that he has in fact, found the ghost coon, and the boys attempt to cheat him by having him kill the coon before he can get his money, which was never part of the deal, that Billy and his dogs would simply tree him and find him, which results in a violent fallout between the boys.


  1. ^ Spencer, Hawes (April 17, 2003). "Dave's debut: Red Fern to premiere at Tribeca". The Hook. Archived from the original on October 12, 2015. Retrieved October 5, 2016. 
  2. ^ Keeps, David (October 2003). "Dear Superstar". Blender. p. 54. 

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