SUBJECTS — World/Africa; The Environment;



AGE10+; No MPAA Rating;

Drama; 1966, 95 minutes; Color. Available from

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This is the true story of the domestication and successful reintroduction into the wild of the lion named Elsa. The film is based on the book by Joy Adamson.


Selected Awards: 1966 Academy Awards: Best Song (“Born Free”), Best Original Score; 1966 National Board of Review Awards: Ten Best Films of the Year.

Featured Actors: Virginia McKenna, Bill Travers.

Director: James Hill


“Born Free” will introduce children to the world of naturalists, lions and Africa. Mr. and Mrs. Adamson are caring and sensitive naturalists.


MINOR. Moderate use of alcohol and tobacco are shown.


After the movie is finished, ask your child the Quick Discussion Question and talk about what you believe the answer to be. Allow your child to express his or her thoughts on the question. Then provide information (from the Internet or books) about lions or Africa or efforts to protect the environment, whatever might be interesting to your child.


The lion is a powerfully built, muscular cat with a long body, short legs, and a large head. A large male is about 10 feet long, including the tail, and stands about three feet at the shoulder. Males weigh up to 500 pounds. Females are smaller. Lions have short fur, pale yellowish to dark brown in color, with a dark tuft on the tip of the tail. The male lion’s outstanding characteristic is his mane. Lions usually live in a group, called a pride, based on one or more family units. Prides can have more than 30 members.

Lions patiently stalk their prey which includes many kinds of animals, from insects to antelopes and giraffes. Death for the prey occurs after a short and rapid charge by the lion in which its speed can reach up to 37 miles per hour. In a successful hunt, the lion’s momentum knocks the prey to the ground where the lion dispatches it with a suffocating bite to the throat. While it may seem that a lion is more than a match for most prey, lions are successful in less than half of their attacks. Lions often hunt in groups with one lion lying in wait while others chase and exhaust the prey, in the end driving it toward the lion lying in wait.

Lions require large expanses of grassland as their range, 20 to 400 square miles. The encroachment of human civilization has vastly decreased the number of lions. Once lions inhabited Africa, Europe, and Asia. Now they are only found in Africa south of the Sahara. A few hundred Asiatic lions live under protection in the Gir Forest National Park in Gujurat State, India.The movie opens with women washing clothing using rocks in a stream. This method has been used by people in many parts of the world, including Europe. As a society becomes more technologically advanced, labor saving devices such as the washboard or, at the top of the scale, the automatic washing machine, will take the place of the rocks in the stream.

Take out a map and show Kenya, the Indian Ocean, and Amsterdam to your children.



Do people have the right to take over and destroy the habitat of animals?

Suggested Response:

People strongly disagree about the right answer to this question. The purpose of this question is to stir up this debate. Environmentalists will say, “no,” or at least that we have the obligation to use the earth in a way that is the least harmful to nature. Others, the vast majority, or at least the persons with power, say that mankind has a right to take whatever it thinks it needs, whatever can make money, supply homes or food for people etc. The concept that this question raises is that of “specism”, an attitude that puts the needs of mankind above all other needs. But some would argue that even in the long term, it is in the interests of mankind to keep the environment in good shape and retain habitats for animals.


1. See Discussion Questions for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.



1. Was it right for Mrs. Adamson to spend all that time with a lion cub when there were poor children in nearby villages who needed help?

2. Is it right to hunt down and kill an animal just because that animal had attacked a human or was eating livestock?

3. Did Mrs. Adamson do the right thing in raising the lion cub herself rather than sending it to a zoo?

4. Should wild animals be trapped and kept in zoos?

5. Why is it so hard to make a domesticated animal into a wild animal and vice versa?


Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.


(Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don’t threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults, and disagreements)

1. Does the need to treat others with respect extend to animals? Why is this ethically important?

2. Does the need to treat others with respect extend to the environment? Why is this ethically important?


(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)

3. Does the need for compassion extend only to human beings or does it apply to animals as well as people?


The book Born Free is suitable for strong junior high and middle school readers. Other adult books about naturalists attempting to save portions of Africa which have been recommended for advanced readers include Cry of the Kalahari by Mark & Delia Owens; Lion’s Share by Jeanette Hamby, and The White Lions of Timbavati by Chris McBride.



prey, domesticated, specism, malaria, mane, pride, Asiatic.


Living Free, is a sequel. We have not seen it. See also The Lion King, The Black Stallion, and Gorillas in the Mist.


In addition to websites which may be linked in the Guide and selected film reviews listed on the Movie Review Query Engine, the following resources were consulted in the preparation of this Learning Guide:

  • Born Free, by Joyce Adamson.

Last updated December 9, 2009.

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