Doggone! I can’t help it: I’m a big ol’ mush when it comes to dogs on film. And it has been a year of the dog lately, with pooches all over the place. Marley & Me—about the “world’s worst dog,” who is, of course, also the world’s best dog— is just out on DVD, and you must see it if you’re any kind of animal lover (warning: have Kleenex handy). There’s also Bolt, the animated dog of the film of the same name, a pampered Hollywood pooch whose grand quest is to learn how to be a regular dog; Hotel for Dogs (due April 28), a kiddie flick I’m much more disposed to than I probably would be otherwise because of its abundance of canines; and Wendy and Lucy (May 5), an under-the-radar indie in which Michelle Williams’ Wendy has to make some tough choices about her best dog pal, Lucy.
And because humanity has such a long, on sale now at: intertwined history with pups, Hollywood smithtix & does too, to wiseguys the point ogden of invoking our favor ite animal companions in its titles even when the movies have nothing to do with pets. There are good reasons to check out movies like Wag the Dog, Dog Day Afternoon, A Boy and His Dog, Dog Soliders and Must Love Dogs—but they have absolutely nothing to do with being an animal lover. If you are a fan of dogs, though, you’ve got your pick of flicks designed to have you sobbing like a baby before they’re over. Or laughing like a loon. Or both at the same time.
For a good cry over dogs and their unwitting impact on us, you cannot go wrong with 2000’s My Dog Skip, about a Jack Russell terrier with the titular name who grows up alongside a boy in 1940s Mississippi. Or 2005’s Because of Winn-Dixie, a similar tale with a girl in the lead (human) role. Grownups use dogs for a substitute for human companionship and love—but only in ways we can all sympathize with—in 1999’s Dog Park, starring Luke Wilson and Natasha Henstridge as the forlorn humans who find each other because of their pooches, and in 2007’s Year of the Dog, in which Molly Shannon refuses to concede that loving dogs is any less satisfying than loving people. Dogs and their people get a snarkier sendup in 2000’s Best in Show, about the nutty folk who enter their dogs in show competitions and take all their self-esteem from how the canines perform.
Dogs as their own creatures in partnership with but distinct from humans is the point of 1995’s Babe—with its proud sheep-herding dogs—and 1998’s Babe: Pig in the City, with its proud homeless dogs who must shift for themselves. The little weiner dog in the “wheelchair” in City, and his dreams of running free across fields of flowers ... I don’t think I’ve ever sobbed harder or with more joy. I’m misting up just thinking about it.
Disney has, perhaps not unexpectedly, built its empire on dogs—and I don’t mean Mickey’s pet Goofy, either. In 1961 (in cartoon form) and in 1996 (in live action), it gave us 101 Dalmatians to coo over. Also from 1961, Greyfriars Bobby is the true tale of a dog so devoted to his master he sits by his grave for decades. Lady and the Tramp, from 1955, about a mutt and a purebred in doggy love, is still one of the great animated Disney movies. Don’t watch 1957’s Old Yeller without a box of tissues nearby; nor 1993’s Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, about lost pets searching for their humans; nor 2006’s Eight Below, about sled dogs abandoned in Antarctica! Sniff.
Need more? Try 1974’s Benji, still one of the best independently produced family films ever made. Or the one-two punch of 1972’s Sounder and 1974’s Where the Red Fern Grows. Or episodes of PBS’s series Wishbone, from the late ’90s, about a Jack Russell terrier who imagines himself as characters out of great literature.
Get a dog. Or at least get a dog DVD.