Almanzo Wilder, the boy Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about in her book “Farmer Boy,” a man that Laura would marry and have one child with, but how much do we really know about Almanzo Wilder other than what is written in “Farmer Boy” and Laura’s notes? Dean Butler the actor who is known for his performance as Almanzo Wilder in Michael Landon’s “Little House” TV series has answered that question and more in his newest in-depth biographical documentary titled, “Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura,” which is a true masterpiece and very well produced.
The documentary starts with an on screen welcome by Dean Butler and begins with the history of the Wilder’s dating all the way back to the 16th century and slowly into Almanzo’s time period featuring historical photos, reenactments and special effects with the famous Garth Williams illustrations from “Farmer Boy.” Dean narrates the film along with his wife Katherine Cannon who provides the voices for the characters which brought lots of flavor to the project along with the peaceful music score playing through the documentary. The documentary covers almost anything anyone would like to know about the life of Almanzo Wilder with tons of footage of the Malone farm, on screen interviews with historian William Anderson, Barbara Walker who is known for the “Little House Cookbook” and more.
What impressed me so much? The cinematography! Wow! The way historical photos and the famous Garth Williams illustrations were being presented through different animation and camera effects, especially with the sound effects was beyond words. It made you feel and experience that time period which reminded me of the Ken Burns Civil War documentary.
The filming of different scenes were done really well. Not jumpy at all, again, very professional. I enjoyed the close up scenes of the flower and the shot of the book being read gives the viewer the feel of being on the farm.
Especially, when the camera was shooting subjective shots at certain parts at the farm made me feel I was there in Malone. Other scenes that I think will be enjoyed were the pioneer living and civil war re-enactment footage scenes.
The image on the documentary was very clear and colorful. The lighting was perfect indoor and outdoor. The audio was also very clear and sounded perfect. The DVD menu is easy to navigate, but didn’t have any scene selections. However, a really cool bonus feature is available called “Wilder Homestead Today” which gives the viewer an in depth tour of the Malone farm, the history of the property and is also narrated by Dean Butler which also gives the viewer a feel like they are on a tour with Dean right at Malone.
I have seen many historical documentaries, but this one really impressed me and after watching made me want to re-read “Farmer Boy” again and visit the Wilder homestead in Malone, NY. I found this documentary to be outstanding and highly recommended for those who are reading or studying the “Little House” books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I don’t even think you need to be a fan of the books or TV series or know anything about the “Little House” books to enjoy this documentary. Dean Butler has produced a masterpiece that will be cherished for generations to come and should win awards for its outstanding cinematography.
“Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura” can be purchased exclusively through the Almanzo Wilder Farm in Burke, NY for 21.95 plus shipping and handling. The total run time is 53 minutes. To purchase click here.