The other night I caught Mike Mills’ “Beginners,” which will probably (surprisingly) make my top ten fiction film list for this year if I make one. One of the best parts of the film is the Jack Russell terrier, Arthur (played by Cosmo), especially when he’s given subtitled speech. And so I was reminded of some other great dogs I’ve seen in movies lately. Two in particular were the only thing I really loved about their respective films: Uggie, the Asta/Skippy-like pup from “The Artist” and the animated Snowy from “The Adventures of Tintin.”
I was already planning to recognize the trend by spotlighting my favorite animal characters of the year, which include documentary subjects like Nim Chimpsky of “Project Nim” and animated protagonists like Rango of “Rango.” Arguably the greatest summer blockbuster hero was Caesar the chimp in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” and of course I do expect to continue my love for “frogs and dogs and bears and chickens and…whatever” this week with the release of “The Muppets.”
Apparently I’m not the only person who has noticed the prevalence of animals in films this year. The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg posted a slideshow over the weekend more narrowly focused on the 22 award contenders featuring animals. Most are unremarkably potential nominees for the animated feature Oscar, and I’m not sure why he included Luna from the documentary “The Whale,” but otherwise his picks are attuned to the trend I was spotting.
But is it really that big a deal how many 2011 movies feature animals? Surely you could look at any year and see a good amount of dogs, horses and wolves (speaking of which, the wolves in “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn” might be my least favorite thing about that movie), just maybe not so notable as either lead or supporting characters. At least canines (including wolves and foxes, I guess), both live-action and animated, are annually honored at Cannes with the Palm Dog Award. This year Uggie won, while the jury also gave a special prize to Laika from “Le Havre.”
It is definitely significant how many major docs beyond the typical IMAX and Disneynature titles have been concentrated on animal subjects, a trend I’ve mentioned before and which was recognized in a Documentary magazine article earlier this year. But for some of these docs, there may be corresponding narrative films. “Nim” and “ROTPOTA.” “One Lucky Elephant” and “Like Water for Elephants.” “The Whale” and “Dolphin Tale.” There are also more than one family film involving penguins and more than one 3D horror film involving killer fish.
Because I still haven’t seen “The Muppets,” “War Horse,” “We Bought a Zoo,” or “Alvin and Chipmunks: Chipwrecked,” I’ll hold off listing my favorite animal characters of 2011 at the moment. I also need to finally see “The Future,” directed by Mills’ girlfriend, Miranda July, and featuring a talking cat (with voice) instead of dog (with subtitles). But at the moment I’m already pretty sure that most of my favorite characters over all,, and some of my favorite performances of the year, will be non-human. Of course, I mean animals, though now I’m also remembering some of the year’s great alien, monster and robot characters as well.
Does anyone have a favorite animal character of the year yet?