To the zoo. This week, the top five animal movies.
- War Horse: Spielberg’s masterful direction really elevates this one.
- The Rover: I won’t spoil it, but the way in which this film turns out to be “about an animal” is meaningful and heartbreaking.
- Where The Wild Things Are: In which the “animals” are delicately nuanced manifestations of facets of a child’s inner life.
- Rango: A gloriously bizarre and gorgeously animated love letter to cinema, with all of Verbinski’s trademark flair.
- Finding Nemo: Possibly Pixar’s finest – visually stunning, impeccably written, and emotionally visceral.
- Benji from: Benji is a house pet with an interesting private life, though he lives with a boring 70s TV drama family, and there is not much which is particularly fantastical about the plot. I find the opening line of the Wikipedia article about Benji to perfectly capture the mood of the films: Benji is the name of a fictional dog who has been the focus of several movies from 1974 through the 2000s.
I love that it says, “… the focus of…” In the same way that Robert S McNamara is the focus of The Fog of War, an award winning Errol Morris documentary.
- Willy the whale, from Free Willy: The quintessential manipulative animal movie. When I saw this movie when I was 12, I was convinced the entire world would come together and do something about this captive whale thing… that adults and children and old people would see this film and recognize an obvious wrong and amend it. And the Michael Jackson song is just so beautiful. And I literally went to Sea World for the first time ever the day after I saw the movie and I just had such a blast.
- The Black Stallion/Into The West: Both horse movies, both dignified. Both stories make the horse not so much a quasi-mystical figure, but a half pagan folk hero.
- All Dogs Go To Heaven: I would never intentionally show my children something which would give them nightmares, and neither would I ever recommend anyone else to do so, but I will say that when something which can give children nightmares accidentally slips through the cracks, it’s not always a bad thing. The nightmare is evidence of an active soul, and Augustine vindicates the passions when he suggests that fear is good because it is a proper response to sin. All that said, when I saw this Don Bluth juggernaut, I walked out of the theater thinking of adults in an entirely new light. Adults made this film. Adults I had never met were making claims about the eternal souls of animals. But even an eight or nine, I knew that not all adults were Christians, and yet to discern that some non-Christian adults had opinions about matters as esoteric as the salvation of animals was overwhelming. And nightmare inducing. But helpfully so. Later learning that Judith Barsi (who voiced Anne-Marie and Ducky in The Land Before Time) was murdered by her father shortly after completing All Dogs launched the film anew in my imagination.
- The Bear (1988): In French works of realism which pertain to animals, orphaned bear cubs eat poisonous mushrooms and get psychedelic. Such films also have taglines like, “The greatest thrill is not to kill but to let live.”
- The Fantastic Mr. Fox
- The Black Stallion
- Bringing Up Baby (a bit of a stretch, I know)
- Walking with Monsters (documentary)
If we take “about” animals a little loosely, I can pull off 5.
- Jurassic Park: “God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs.” “Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the earth.”
- Fantastic Mr. Fox: “Who am I, Kylie? Why a fox? Why not a horse, or a beetle, or a bald eagle? I’m saying this more as, like, existentialism, you know? Who am I? And how
can a fox ever be happy without, you’ll forgive the expression, a chicken
in its teeth”
- Babe: “Pork is a nice sweet meat.”
- Finding Nemo: “You know, for a clown fish, you’re not very funny.”
- The Birds: “I have never known birds of different species to flock together. The very concept is unimaginable. Why, if that happened, we wouldn’t stand a chance! How could we possibly hope to fight them?”
- Scrat from Ice Age: Blue Sky combined the bizarre physical comedy of the old Warner Bros. cartoons with the sly prehistoric take on an squirrel who just wants his acorn.
- Dory from Finding Nemo: “Hey there, Mr. Grumpy Gills. When life gets you down do you wanna know what you’ve gotta do? Just keep swimming….”
- Charlotte from Charlotte’s Web (1973): While I adored the book for its classic tale of friendship, I always imagine Charlotte as Doris Day’s plain, haunting, sweet-voiced spider.
- Old Yeller: The classic American boy and his dog movie, sweet with a heartbreaking core.
- Jasmine from Secondhand Lions: A twist on the classic American boy and his pet movie. Jasmine the lion, in a sense, symbolizes uncles Hub and Garth: They may be retired, but they still have heroic hearts.
- Babe: A pig who will not be stereotyped, is riddled with humor, still holds up.
- Milo and Otis: A dog and a cat on parallel odysseys.
- Blackfish: Brutal documentary on causes and effects in the treatment of captive killer whales.
- Scrat (Ice Age): What Emily said. Physical comedy is becoming increasingly rare, but when it’s done, it’s done poorly. This was an exception.
- Toothless (How to Train Your Dragon): Even what once was considered evil, might actually be misunderstood, but growth and training are still required.
I’m not much of a pet person. So I had to work hard to come up with a list.
- Wilson in Cast Away (2000) : Wilson was a great companion to Chuck Noland. He didn’t just go along with Chuck, he stood up to him and challenged him. And when it was time, he left Chuck so that he could grow up. Wilson qualifies for this list because he’s an insentient volleyball.
- Red Balloon in Le Ballon Rouge (1956) & in Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge (2007) : A pet should delight its owner with wild and mysterious behavior, making Red Balloon a perfect pet.
- Sandy in Annie (1982) : An accomplice in the mischief and do-gooding of Annie. He was a smart dog and I’m almost as happy for him as for Annie.
- Teek in The Battle for Endor (1985) : Teek isn’t a pet, but he was a furry nonspeaking critter and I felt sad when he [SPOILER ALERT] died.
- The Puckmarin from Binpuka Minor in Flight of the Navigator (1986) : I wanted one of these things so bad.
- Fantastic Mr Fox: Personified animals wrestling with—among other things—what it means to be personified animals; all to the phenomenal compositions of Alexandre Desplat.
- Robin Hood (Disney’s animated): This movie taught me, from an early age, to accept any revisionist history that involved Roger Miller as a rooster playing folk songs on a lute—a principle that hasn’t failed me yet.
- Ratatouille: Brad Bird’s animated films all operate upon and advance the premise that modern egalitarianism is bunk and that modern elitism is bunk—a novel and needed premise in its own right. Ratatouille is a particularly winsome incarnation.
- Jurassic Park: I would be hard pressed to think of a “monster” movie in which the antagonists are as romantic as Spielberg’s dinosaurs are in this one. Spielberg manages to present them like natural-disaster movies present volcanoes and earthquakes; too majestic to be immoral, too wondrous to be anything but wondrous.
- The Birds: Hitchcock actually turned animals /into/ a natural disaster, dispassionate but chillingly sentient. I was sore afraid.