Sunday, January 5, 2014

The 6 Best Live-Action Movies with Animal Protagonists

Filmmakers learned early on that putting animals in the picture is pretty much always a good idea. Who doesn't love movies about animals? And thus, here is a list of the best live-action movies with animal protagonists. Since I'm excluding animated films, great Disney films like One Hundred and One Dalmatians, Lady and the Tramp, Dumbo, and The Lion King, as well as films like Animal Farm and Watership Down didn't make the cut. The horror and trauma that is the experience of watching Old Yeller precluded its inclusion.

6. Greyfriars Bobby (1961)
This film, based on a real incident that occurred in 19th century Edinburgh, is about a Skye terrier named Bobby who keeps vigil on his beloved master's grave. Both the graveyard caretaker (Donald Crisp) and a local restaurant owner (Laurence Naismith) compete for the dog's affections, but a dispute over who should pay Bobby's license fee - without which he will be put down - soon involves the entire community. If this sounds morbid, be assured that it is not, but if you're not in a puddle of tears by the end, you're neither human or canine.

5. MouseHunt (1997)
Nathan Lane and Lee Evans star as the Smuntz brothers, unscrupulous schemers who hope to turn their dead father's house, supposedly a lost architectural masterpiece, into a goldmine. There's only one problem - a brilliantly intelligent mouse with no intention of changing his residence. The brothers try everything from a vacuum cleaner to a demented cat to Christopher Walken as the creepiest exterminator of all time in an increasingly crackbrained effort to rid themselves of their unwanted housemate. Inappropriately marketed as a kids' movie, the film is hilarious, though the humor is quite violent and at times raunchy.

4. Babe (1995)
Babe is a sensitive young pig determined to escape Farmer Hoggett's axe and realize his ambition of being a sheepdog, or rather pig. Unlike previous talking-animal films, visual effects were used to make the animals appear to actually talk, a technology that has never since been used befittingly. In fact, this film won the Best Visual Effects Oscar, winning over Apollo 13. The film's particularly Australian brand of dark humor, a wonderfully restrained performance by James Cromwell as Farmer Hoggett, and one of the best final lines ever make Babe a genuine classic.

3. Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993)
Both a suspenseful adventure film and a moving tribute to the bonds between animals and their humans, this film is about Shadow, Sassy, and Chance, cherished pets who find themselves inexplicably separated from their beloved humans and decide to brave the wilderness and return home. The score by Bruce Broughton is eloquently expressive, the voice performances from Don Ameche, Sally Field, and Michael J. Fox are excellent, and the animal performances are incredible.

2. The Three Lives of Thomasina (1963)
One of the most unjustly underrated of Disney's live-action films, The Three Lives of Thomasina, based on a novel by Paul Gallico, is told by its feline heroine, who lives in Scotland with her human child, Mary MacDhui (Karen Dotrice), and her father (Patrick McGoohan), the town's stern and unsympathetic veterinarian. The film's politics are very much ahead of their time, staunchly supporting animal rights and portraying those that mistreat animals as morally corrupt. A delicate and magical film.

1. The Adventures of Milo and Otis (1986/1989)
In Masanori Hata's film about the power of friendship, Milo, an orange tabby cat, and Otis, a fawn pug, are best friends growing up together on a farm. Milo, always in trouble, accidentally gets stuck in a box floating down a river, but Otis resolutely pursues, determined to rescue his friend. The cinematography is lovely and the many distinctive Japanese locations are stunning. The American cut has narration by Dudley Moore and a rather silly but pleasant song by Dick Tarrier, "Walk Outside."

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