Movies That Ruined My Childhood: Living Free (1972).
I’d be lion if I told you this sequel to Born Free was nearly as good as the original.
Looking over our favorite lion movies last week, I got reacquainted with an old childhood friend – Elsa the lion. Through TV, Film, music, and books, Born Free and the iconic lioness Elsa was a constant when I was in grade school. Unfortunately, I also got reacquainted with Born Free’s sequels. Living Free is the second movie in the franchise, but is actually based on the third book. The book in which Elsa’s story comes to an end. A childhood ruining end.
Living Free (1972).
Park warden George and his naturalist/author wife Joy Adamson check in on Elsa, the lioness they raised from a cub and re-introduced to the wild. They discover Else is seriously ill, and are forced to take charge of her three cubs. Much like when they raised Elsa and her siblings, they are soon forced by a wary population to relocate the growing lions.
Bury the Lead.
Yeah. Elsa dies.
I knew from the books that she passes away in the third book, which acts like a bittersweet mirror to the first story. Instead of Elsa and her two siblings, we get Elsa’s three cubs, making a fitting “circle of life” story about the Adamsons and their lions. Since this film skips right over the middle of that arc, where we get to see Elsa living her adult life wild and free, there’s a lot less closure. We even get a rather chintzy rehash of the first film at the beginning, which makes the impression that Elsa was released into the wild…and promptly gets sick and dies. “Living” Free is in the title, you heartless bastards!
Besides watching Elsa unceremoniously shuffled off the mortal coil, there’s not much new to this outing. Nigel Davenport and Susan Hampshire play George and Joy in this film, and they lack the spark that Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers had as a real couple and animal activists. The acting is fine, but it’s not nearly as vital as the first film.
Living Free recycles quite a bit of documentary footage from the first one, and the new story elements are not enough to make up the difference. The three cubs are cute and all, but they don’t have as much screen time or screen presence as Elsa did. Seeing them essentially go through her arc all over again feels like rehash instead of the poignant ending to a trilogy.
Free…but Don’t Buy It.
At the end of the day, Living Free can’t hold a candle to its predecessor. The cinematography is less interesting, though it does manage to catch some of the spark of the original in places. The characters are less engaging. The story is less powerful. The soundtrack is certainly nowhere near as iconic as John Barry’s Oscar winning theme to Born Free. Top all that with the clumsily handled death of the series heart and soul centerpiece, and you get a truly disappointing adaptation.