CANINE CINEMA: MY TOP DOGS IN FILM
Cannes film festival is well underway this week, and it got me thinking (as I usually do) about cinema. Anybody who knows me will know that I’m a serious film lover. From Disney classics to the latest offering in foreign film, I’m game for anything. And if it happens to feature a dog, even better! Throughout history dogs have featured in films in a variety of ways – maybe it’s because they manage to win the hearts of audiences in a way that humans (and even other animals) simply can’t. A dog can steal the spotlight, even with the smallest of roles (Baxter from Anchorman springs to mind). They’re not exactly known for award-winning performances or ground-breaking storylines, but let’s face it, there’s nothing better than indulging in a film that revolves around dogs and all things canine. It was hard to do, but I’ve managed to pull together five of my favourite dog-themed films (and apologies to Lassie and Greyfriars Bobby, as a child of the 90s my list doesn’t reach quite that far back!).
ISLE OF DOGS
Let’s start with one of the latest films to grace our screens, and probably the most critically acclaimed (but let’s face it, does that really matter?). When one of my favourite directors (Wes Anderson) announced an animated film with a cast comprising largely of dogs, I knew I’d potentially discovered my film of 2018. The cinematography and compositions, the use of colour and texture (drawn from Japanese culture), the tiny details, the music! Always quirky but also sincere, the balance of art and storytelling is on point – for me, at least. I’m no film critic, I can’t help but fall head over heels in love with this film. Wes Anderson’s offerings aren’t for everybody, but if you’ve got a taste for whimsy (tinged with dark and often serious undertones), artful storytelling, and gorgeous stop-motion animation, then Isle of Dogs may be right up your street (or trash heap).
Fun fact: Say the name of the film super-fast and it sounds like you’re saying ‘I love dogs’
This film gets bonus points because it also includes a cat (crazy cat lady, right here!), but seriously – Homeward Bound is one of those films that becomes an instant classic. As with lots of films, this one was based on a book by the same name, and tells the tale of rebellious young American Bulldog Chance, wise old Golden Retriever Shadow (who becomes an instant treasure), and smart-mouthed cat Sassy, as they embark on an epic journey back home after being separated from their family. It’s a simple enough story, but is jam-packed full of charm, humour and emotion (no spoilers, but I challenge you not to burst into tears at the end). Yes, technically it’s a kid’s film, but I love it and it will always hold a place in my ‘lazy Sunday afternoon family film’ collection.
Fun fact: It’s one of the few talking animal films where the animals’ mouths don’t move along with the words (thank God!)
LADY & THE TRAMP
Disney, Disney, Disney – I love it! While most of my favourites were released in the 90s, this 1955 is just too good to pass up. Plus it’s a brilliant example of the insane skill of Disney’s animators, who spent a lot of time studying different breeds of dogs in order to capture their movement and personalities (one of my favourites being Jock, the stereotypical Scottie dog). Sure, the storyline isn’t exactly original and there are a few questionable/outdated themes (please ignore the opening scene of the film where Lady is gifted to her owner as a Christmas present – dogs are for life, people!). But watching a love story unfold in canine form – combined with memorable songs and richly coloured animation – makes Lady and the Tramp one of my absolute favourites.
Fun fact: The spaghetti eating scene is probably now the most famous from the film, Walt Disney was prepared to cut it out, thinking that it would not be romantic and that dogs eating spaghetti would look silly.
Is this one of the most famous movie dogs of all time? As with a lot of the films in this list, I watched Beethoven before I was old enough to appreciate ‘good cinema’, so I won’t go into too much detail on that (as far as films go, it’s not exactly the greatest). But still, this film has become a cult classic. Focussing on a St Bernard puppy that turns a family’s life upside down, this film has family-friendly charm and chaotic comedy oozing from every pore – the grumpy dad, the mischievous kids, the heroic (if destructive) hound. What’s not to love?
Fun fact: The St Bernard used during film had no problem following commands, since his name was also Beethoven!
MARLEY & ME
Well no list of dog-themed films would be complete without the one that makes an entire cinema bawl its eyes out. Marley & Me might not be an award-winning piece of cinema, but you’d be hard pressed to find another film that does such an amazing (and heart-wrenching) job of showing how dogs shape our lives and become an integral and hugely important part of our families – despite all of the ups and downs along the way. The story follows the life of Marley and his family on their journey through life, juggling jobs, moving homes, and raising children. It’s a true story too, based on a best-selling book written by Marley’s owner, John Grogan – which probably makes the film even more meaningful and emotional, because you know that every scene is steeped in truth. What’s more, most of us will have experience first-hand the chaos that dog ownership often carries, and the impact that our dogs have on our lives. Just remember the tissues!
Fun fact: Because the film covers all 14 years of Marley’s life, a total of 22 canine actors were used to play the part!
Honourable mentions (because let’s face it, five films just isn’t enough): 101 Dalmatians, A Dog’s Purpose, Turner & Hooch, Hatchi: A Dog’s Tale, and Balto. I could go on but we’d be here all day!