The trouble with taking the kids to the movies is not just the kids, but the movie. Most matinee films seem to have been made by children rather than for them. Run Wild, Run Free solves the problem; it is not only an ideal children's film but also a mature piece of film making in its own right.
The plot is as simple as a storybook. Philip (Mark Lester) is a ten-year-old child who wanders the moors of Devonshire, wondering at the endless varieties of nature around him. His only companion is a retired colonel (John Mills) who teaches him how to identify wildlife and how to train and fly a falcon. But Philip cannot communicate either his enthusiasm or thanks: he is autistic, a puzzle and a burden to his parents for most of his life. It is not until after he encounters a wild white colt early one morning that he begins even to respond to other people.
The horse is a kind of magic prize. Philip calls the colt by his own name and adopts him. Soon afterward, the boy is speaking, haltingly and in private, to the colonel. Philip appears finally to be making a breakthrough to reality, until nature abruptly plays a cruel trick by endangering the horse and imperiling the boy's own delicate psyche.
What sounds like sentimentalized, kindergarten Freud is molded by Director Richard C. Sarafian and a talented cast into an uninsistent and evocative parable of childhood's end. Sarafiana former TV directorhas an eye for the feeling and texture of inanimate as well as living things. When the colonel searches a birdwatcher's guide for an entry, the book assumes an identity of its own; notes are scribbled in the margin, the pages are dirty and soiled, odd cards and scraps of paper are stuck between pages to mark essential passages. The characters, down to the most briefly glimpsed villager, are delineated with equal finesse. Perhaps what is finally so attractive about Run Free is this quality of care that bespeaks a deep reverence for and understanding of its young audience, and all audiences.