If it's crap ... We'll tell you
I feel like I've seen a ton of these "slice of life" 19th century nostalgia films. Old Yeller had a very similar feeling to it. I don't know what really started these but I wouldn't doubt The Yearling being a major contributor to their popularity.
The movie is about a boy named Jody (Claude Jarman Jr.) working a small family acre in the Florida backwoods. His father Penny (Gregory Peck) is trying his hardest to raise his son right, teaching him lessons about life while still allowing him to enjoy childhood. His mother, Orry (Jane Wyman), on the other hand, is a distant, almost cold woman who feels that life has treated her so poorly that any sort of happiness or attachment to others can only lead to tragedy. After a life-threatening accident ends up killing a doe, Jody decides to take the doe's faun in as his own and raise it. But as times become tougher and the faun becomes more of a hassle to keep, Jody does a lot of growing up in a very short amount of time.
I always find it amusing how stories like this will just throw stuff at you out of nowhere. It's got a simple story, but the road to get to that story is littered with characters and plot lines that either go no where, come from nowhere, or ultimately serve no purpose to the story. But in the end, at least in this film, most all of it does add up to a common goal of having Jody become a young adult. He has to deal with death and tragedy, and it's great to watch not only Jody but the rest of his family learn and grow from these events as well.
The film flourishes its visuals with brilliant cinematography throughout. There's an extended scene around the middle of the film of Jody playing with his faun that felt like the director just telling the cinematographer to go wild, and while the payoff ultimately serves little purpose, it's beautiful to watch. And while this is sort of hindered by the fact that some of the smaller scenes are obviously shot on a set, the sets aren't bad. The lighting and effects such as wind are used well, but that sort of filmmaking has never aged as well as on-location shoots.
The Yearling is a movie I would want my kids to see. Old Yeller has overshadowed it over time due to home video sales and the fact that it's from Disney, but The Yearling is a superior version of a very similar story. Needless to say, I recommend it.