Friday, May 11, 2012

Be Kind To Animals: Magnificent 7 Film Stars

This week is Be Kind To Animals Week, originally created by the Humane Society, but supported by all sorts of other wonderful organizations. This is a perfect time to go to your neighborhood Humane Society or Dog Shelter and adopt a four-legged companion. Or check out for hints on how to get started. You won't regret it. 

To help celebrate Be Kind To Animals Week here at FoJ, and because today is Film Friday,  I would like to talk about My Magnificent Seven Favorite Film Animal Stars. I want to tell you who I think are the seven most important (?) animals in cinema history. Obviously, there are way too many to choose from, but these are the seven I thought of first....later I thought of the gorillas in GORILLAS IN THE MIST and the elephant from WATER FOR ELEPHANTS....but I still think my choices are pretty good. And if you haven't seen all of these films already, by all means rent them at netflix or borrow them from the libary. I recommend all of them with Seven Stars! Ready? Roll 'em!

7. Blofeld's Turkish Angora Cat from the James Bond films
Ernst Stavro Blofeld appeared in six James Bond films: FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, THUNDERBALL, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, and FOR YOUR EYES ONLY. His unnamed white tabby appeared with him in most if not all of these films. Specifically in the first two, where the character's face is not shown, it is his lap and his lap cat that are the pre-eminent image of Evil. In fact, the bad guy and his cat was parodied by none other than Dr. Evil and his hairless cat in the AUSTIN POWERS films.

6. Asta from THE THIN MAN series
Along with Nick and Nora Charles, the only character who appeared in every film in this classic mystery-comic series is Asta the Dog. He's no William Powell or Myrna Loy but he does bring a touch of affection and amusement to the proceedings. If you have never seen any of these classic films, start with the first one. It's the best of the six....although all of them are fast-paced and entertaining. The series ran from 1934 to 1947 and besides Asta, who often played an important role in discovering the solution of the murderer, such guest-stars as Maureen O'Sullivan, Cesar Romero, Jimmy Stewart, and Keenan Wynn were around to partake in the action. By the way, the "thin man" is not actually Nick Charles; it was a character from the first film who went missing.

The classic screwball comedy from 1938 was the first picture to team Katherine Hepburn with Cary Grant (they went on several years later to make THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, one of the greatest motion pictures ever). It was one of the best representative of the era's comedies; it, along with IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, HIS GIRL FRIDAY, and DUCK SOUP,  are not to be missed. Baby the leopard helps bring Hepburn and Grant together and then helps them stay together, so for that ranks at number five. The story is too chaotic to explain here; it's a mess, but trust me when I tell you, it's funny! Extra points to Asta for appearing as Hepburn's dog, George.

4. Old Yeller in OLD YELLER
This is one of the all-time great tear-jerkers ever made. The basic story is this: a pioneer family in Texas is trying to survive while their Pa is out on a cattle-drive. While he is away eldest son Travis is befriended by "an old yeller dog" who they decide to keep around to help keep raccoons out of the corn and keep an eye on the adventurous (ie stupid) younger brother, Arliss. The 1957 film is all about the budding relationship between Travis, his younger brother Arliss, their mother, and the dog. Tommy Kirk as Travis was never better; Kevin Corcoran as Arliss was not overly obnoxious, and Dorothy McGuire and Fess Parker as the parents were the kinds of parents all kids want to have. A wonderful film about the love and pain of growing up.

3. Pluto the Pup
Mickey Mouse's pet dog made his debut in one of the two following cartoon shorts, depending on who you ask: Minnie had a dog named Rover in "The Picnic" (1930), or Mickey took his own dog, Pluto, with him when they went on "The Moose Hunt" (1931). Either way, in the Disney universe Pluto is unique as being the only "lead" Disney animal character who actually acts like an animal. All other lead characters, be they mice or ducks or chipmunks or what have you speak and act like humans. Pluto, however, acts like a dog. Most importantly, Pluto never talks. He plays the role of "dog" to Mickey's "master." I really like that in him.

Can you think of another character in another movie who is as well-known and loved as the little terrier from MGM's 1939 classic? I don't think so. When you think of OZ you think of Judy Garland as Dorothy in her blue gingham dress holding her adorable little dog. Plus he helps save her from the castle AND uncovers the "very bad wizard."

1. Bruce in JAWS
Anyone who has ever seen JAWS can never forget it. The soundtrack and the sight of the dorsal fin coming up in the water are visceral experiences we can not "un-see" or "un-hear." Although Bruce (the nickname for the mechanical shark used at the end of the picture) does not appear until more than halfway into the movie, his presence is established right from the opening scene. If you can suggest a more famous movie animal than the shark from JAWS, I'd like to hear it.

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