Staff Selects: Dogs in Film

Taking inspiration from the new Harrison Ford/CGI dog two-hander The Call of the Wild releasing this weekend, our staff lists some of their favorite big-screen canines:

Unnamed Chihuahua, Paddington

Every day when I descend down the escalators at various locations on the London Underground, I see a sign that immediately makes me start grinning like a fool and probably perplexes all those other lovely people around me. Wedged between the warnings to take extra care with children and to not smoke on the tube is the source of my daily joy, “dogs must be carried.” This of course brings a smile to my face because of that nice bear Paddington, whose journey from Darkest Peru to London in the 2014 film, Paddington, saw him encounter the very same sign and misunderstand it, believing it meant he must carry a dog to be allowed on the escalator. For the place it now holds in my daily routine, I have to name the unnamed chihuahua that Paddington snatched as my favorite film dog. [Henry Baime]

Dug, Up

The praise for Pixar’s Up has diminished rapidly over the past decade, likely because it’s sandwiched between two much stronger Pixar films – the dazzling, relatively experimental WALL-E and the incomparable Toy Story 3 which topped my best of the decade list. Let’s not forget, though, that this heartwarming adventure opened the 2009 Cannes Film Festival – an almost comically bright start to a particularly bleak festival year featuring immense downers like Antichrist and Palme-winner The White Ribbon. Its opening montage is notoriously emotional, but the film quickly counterbalances the weighty thematic content with adorable characters, none more so than Dug, a Golden Retriever with a collar that allows him to speak. He’s big, fluffy, and delightfully optimistic, with his overly articulated speech (“My master made me this collar. He is a good and smart master, and he made me this collar so that I may talk.”) contrasting his dopey physical presence. He perfectly personifies the personality many dog owners project onto their pets – goofy, loyal, and easily distracted by squirrels – and earns his spot on this list of furry friends. [Kern Wheeling]

Lolabelle, Heart of a Dog

Laurie Anderson’s Heart of a Dog is the kind of film that feels like it should be watched twice – once with eyes open, and once with eyes closed to fall directly into the sound. It is a meditation on grief, and the endurance of love, but this love is not that of romance, but of family. That familial bond is, of course, with a dog. Best described as a love letter to “dogs, death, and Lou Reed,” it came to fruition in response to the death of Anderson’s rat terrier, Lolabelle. It’s playfully experimental, one that feels like it was not planned in advance, only words spoken candidly into a microphone with music added later. The imagery feels like a scrapbook to follow along with, some sort of attempt to show how much she cares for this dog and her world. The flowing script touches on change in a post-9/11 world, and how we interact with our own mortality and that of our loved ones. It is all framed through one little dog, perhaps an obvious distinction that it is a dog movie, but the approach is far more unique than the average film. [Sarah]

Sam, I Am Legend

[WARNING: spoilers for I Am Legend]

Unlike my colleagues, my choice is quite sad. Then again, what dog-centric film isn’t? My top choice for best dog still goes to Will Smith‘s equally talented co-star in Francis Lawrence‘s 2007 film adaptation, I Am Legend. Her real name is Abbey, but this extremely well trained German Shepherd plays virologist Robert Neville’s guard dog and last remaining friend, Samantha – a parting gift from Neville’s daughter before a fatal helicopter crash. Sam plays the penultimate example of “man’s best friend” as the pair spend their post-apocalyptic NYC days singing Bob Marley, scavenging, hunting, and fighting off infected vampire-esque creatures. Extremely resonant for me, because my own dog – a German Shepherd/Siberian Husky/Wolf mix – also risked her life to save me twice. Instead of vampire-hounds, she fought off two pitbulls on two separate occasions during our daily walks. She wasn’t fatally wounded, but has since passed away after an adventurous 16 years. I can never get through this otherwise sci-fi thriller without breaking down in tears by the end, because like Neville, my trusty companion got me through some rough patches and life-threatening quarrels. A true legend I see mirrored in this beautifully respectful depiction of mankind’s companionship. [Lee]

Scooby-Doo, Scooby-Doo (2002) & Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed (2004)

Is there anything weirder than the two live action Scooby-Doo movies? Scooby is arguably the most popular pup of all time, so a big budget movie ($84 million) released by a huge studio was imminent, but what we got was ultimately an enigma. Both movies are borderline experimental when compared to other family movies released around the time, there is almost no tonal balance, it’s brimming with sexual and drug innuendos and weird undertones, the visual effects are dated but weirdly charming, and essentially it feels like it was written and directed by bored potheads. That being said, it’s actually a pretty comforting watch for me (damn you, nostalgia!), and I enjoy discovering wild things I missed whenever I revisit it. Furthermore, I’ll also go ahead and shamelessly proclaim that the frivolous banter between Shaggy and Scoob still makes me laugh to this day. [Vincent]

Marley, Marley & Me

Marley & Me may not be the best or the saddest dog movie ever made, but it is a movie that I hold really close to my heart because of how memorable my experience watching it. The first time I saw the movie was when I was in 7th grade, a time when I still had a Siberian Husky named Chico. My dad trusted me to walk and feed him every day, so I was really close with my dog — he was basically my best friend. But more than that, the relationship that I had with my dog allowed me to build a stronger bond with my dad in a way that my other siblings did not have. This is what depicted in Marley & Me. The movie not only realistically illustrates how powerful the bond between dogs and people can be, but also how dogs can bring two people closer. Though narrative-wise, the movie can get a little clunky, and the ending feels a little manipulative, I can’t help but love this movie because of how personal and relevant it is to me. [Reyzando Nawara]

Old Dan & Little Ann, Where the Red Fern Grows (1974)

The first time I watched this film, I was in the sixth grade. We had read an excerpt from the novel of the same title and watched the film towards the end of the year. Almost all of us cried, multiple times. Family movies in the seventies pulled no punches.

A young boy in the Ozarks named Billy spends years doing petty jobs to buy two Bluetick puppies, wanting to satisfy his passion for hunting raccoons. So begins a story of friendship between Billy, Old Dan and Little Ann. It’s a very midwestern, down-to-earth movie. There are beautiful landscapes (lensed by frequent Carpenter collaborator Dean Cundey) and a charming cast of characters, there’s a very dark subplot involving manslaughter, and Dan and Ann are just the cutest couple of dogs ever put to film. Stewart Peterson does a wonderful job as Billy, conveying the naive determination of a young boy who just wants one thing more than anything else. It’s a sad movie drenched in small town faith and pioneer spirit. The book is obviously filled with more nuance and spends a lot more time in the long journey that Billy takes in the first act, but the film is more focused on the relationship between Billy and the dynamic dog duo. It’s an impeccable film, and one that’s been sadly forgotten. [Jen]

Frank Welker in Frankenweenie (2012)

Frankenweenie, Frankenweenie (2012)

It’s hard to look at an upcoming movie with a dog on the poster and not feel some tinge of sadness, because you know there’s a strong chance that the dog’s not going to make it to the end credits. Enter Tim Burton, with the only good movie he made in the past decade, to tell you that anything can be beaten, even death itself. Early on in Frankenweenie, the dog in question, an adorable stop-motion bull terrier named Sparky is killed, only for his owner, the precocious young Victor Frankenstein (because…sure) to resurrect him. The movie is pretty standard “baby’s first horror movie” stuff, and there’s nothing wrong with that, because the film is a delight. But that dog at the center, back again from the other side because of the powers of love and electricity, is something special. It’s an antidote to the harsh truth that everything dies, and those horse blinders against tragedy is the stuff that great feel-good films, and great dogs, are made of. [Davey Peppers]

Staff Selects

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