By Karen Espig
In the current social media culture, we know that animals are popular, but did you know they also have long been the stars of the silver screen? The earliest movie with a canine star was in 1905 – Rescued By Rover, a silent film by Cecil Milton Hepworth. Then there was Rin Tin Tin, a rescued dog from a World War I battlefield, who starred in 27 Hollywood films.
From 1951 to 1973, there were even awards for animal stars. The award was created by the Hollywood office of the American Humane Society after a horse was killed on set during the filming of the movie Jesse James. The first PATSY (Picture Animal Top Star of the Year) was awarded to Francis, the talking mule who starred in 7 films.
Here are five movies starring animals that you should watch or rewatch, but believe me, there are so many more to enjoy! P.S. They are not just for kids!
The Black Stallion (1979) (G)
This beautifully styled film by Francis Ford Coppola is about Alec Ramsey (a young boy) and a wild-tempered Arabian stallion finding themselves stranded together after a disastrous shipwreck.
The story follows the quiet and deepening bond that develops between them on the deserted island. Once rescued, Alec and The Black, as the horse is called, struggle to find their places off the island. Finally, Alec meets a long-time horse trainer (played by Mickey Rooney), forging a new meaningful friendship.
Four separate horses were used to play The Black, including Case Ole, a national champion many times over. You will love this story that touches on patience, understanding, and courage.
Babe (1995) (G)
Followed up with a sequel, Babe. Pig in the City, the original Babe is my root-for-the-underdog favourite. Babe is an orphaned piglet put up as a prize at a county fair. Fortunately, Babe is won by the kind-hearted farmer Arthur Hoggett (played by James Cromwell).
On the farm, the charming piglet befriends Fly, the motherly border collie who adopts and encourages Babe. As time goes on, Farmer Hoggett sees the potential in this clever pig and decides to enter the National Sheep Dog Trial—despite being laughed at by his fellow farmers.
Astonishingly, more than 48 different pigs played the role of Babe. This was because piglets grow very quickly, and each one could only be used for three weeks before becoming too large! This wonderful film highlights kindness and cooperation that the whole family can enjoy.
Life Of Pi (2012) (PG)
Ang Lee directs this visually stunning film about Pi, a teenage boy adrift in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger (named Richard Parker) after the ship with his family and their zoo sinks en route to Canada.
The story of his 227 days at sea is a tale of resourcefulness, determination, and faith. As a boy, Pi incorporated several religions into his spiritual journey. As he put it, “faith is a house with many rooms”, and all of those rooms serve him in his journey of survival.
While some CGI (computer-generated imagery) was employed, four live tigers were involved in creating accurate movements and behaviours. The result is an oscar-winning adventure film about hope and the interdependence of humans and nature.
Gorillas In The Mist (1988) (PG-13)
If you are looking for a thought-provoking film, check out this multiple Oscar winner, based on the real-life experiences of Dian Fossey. Dian was a primatologist who spent 20 years in Rwanda, studying gorillas and promoting conservation policies, until her murder in 1985.
Sigourney Weaver plays Fossey, who develops a means of communicating with the gorillas, revealing their intelligence which, in turn, increases Dian’s determination to save them.
Dian’s assistant was charged in absentia for her murder; however, another individual was arrested in 2001 and who killed Dian remains unclear to this day. In 2017, National Geographic produced a documentary, Dian Fossey: Secrets in the Mist.
Rescued By Ruby (2022) (TV-G)
A recent film, Rescued by Ruby, is currently streaming on Netflix. The movie is based upon a true story of a shelter dog adopted in her final hours by a Rhode Island police officer looking for a potential K-9 unit trainee.
Ruby, the Border Collie, is an unlikely candidate, but the story follows the pair as they find unorthodox ways of incorporating her into both the K-9 training program and her new family.
Bear, the dog playing Ruby, was also a rescue in real life, making the telling of this story even more poignant.
Whichever animal-studded film you select, you can be assured that all of the creatures were treated with care. Hollywood Humane is a non-profit organisation that protects animals in film and television productions. It is part of the 100-year-old organisation, American Humane, which began as a child-protection agency. So pop some popcorn and cosy up for some animal magic!