ColumnWe love our pets, and the box office does too.
At the mere mention of a heartwarming tale starring a four-legged companion, many of us are happy to be front and center clutching a box of tissues.
Why is this? According to The Humane Society of the United States, thirty-nine percent of U.S. households own at least one dog. Thirty-three percent of U.S. households own at least one cat. That’s not even taking into account those burdened with pet allergies who long from afar. So it makes perfect sense that, as a culture, we’re a bunch of admitted saps eager to shell out our cash if it means we get to bask in the glow of animal love.
And boy, do we shell. Our love for animal weepers translates into big numbers. The 2008 feature “Marley and Me” currently holds a worldwide gross of $243,665,113. Adults and children alike flock to these often family-friendly films; after all, animal love crosses generations. It brings us together in the shared warmth of a Marley. Or Lassie. Or Seabiscuit.
But what’s really at the heart of our affinity for heart-warming films? Likely, it’s for the same reasons we love animals. Animal co-stars aren’t driven by pretense, or cynicism, or even acting. (And to any nonbelievers, consider the recent story of a dog stretched out next to the casket at the funeral of his owner, a fallen Navy Seal.) Animals love us unconditionally.
While Hollywood has given us film after film featuring our four-legged companions, these are the 10 which, for me, stand as the most heat-rending and tear-stained among them.
This film’s tagline might read: “The ultimate timeless story of all timeless stories of a boy and his dog.” When young Travis Coates, a man before his time, befriends a yellow dog, adventures are had. And it’s Travis’ heartbroken endgame – “But he was my dog. I’ll do it” – that makes this Disney film a true classic.
Hachi, thy name is emotional manipulation. Director Lasse Hallstorm brings out the big guns in this tear-drenched drama about a loyal dog who greets his master every day at the train station. When kindly Professor Wilson (Richard Gere) dies suddenly, Hachi continues to wait for him at the station – for 10 years. You likely won’t get two minutes into this film without reaching for a tissue. And it’s based on a true story.
Marley is a rambunctious puppy adopted by the Grogans in the early years of their marriage. Untrainable, ornery, and very badly behaved, he provides a narrative thread to a relatable couple who weather marriage, miscarriages, career and kids. When Marley “goes to a better place” at the end, you’re weeping right alongside the finely-toned Grogans, played by Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson. Better yet? It’s inspired by a true story.
Young Joe Carraclough (Roddy McDowall) is despondent when his Depression-era parents sell his collie, Lassie, to the Duke of Rudling. When the Duke carts Lassie off hundreds of miles away to Scotland, his granddaughter Priscilla (Elizabeth Taylor) helps Lassie escape. Lassie travels back to Joe, experience the good and bad of humanity along the way.
This drama western romance is really supposed to be about the love between a highly strung New Yorker (Kristen Scott Thomas) and a handsome cowboy (Robert Redford). But this healing film is really about the relationship between a traumatized girl (Scarlett Johansson) and her equally damaged horse.
A film that likely put a generation off pork permanently, the adventurous Babe is a pig who wants to be a sheep-dog. So when Babe learns how to herd sheep from Farmer Hoggett (James Cromwell), he leaves most of us in the dust with his can-do spirit. That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.
This Disney animated classic came out in 1942, embedding its place into so many of our childhoods. How many of us can count childhood trauma back to the moment Bambi’s mother is “taken away” by hunters? Nonetheless, we all, like Bambi, managed to survive.
Impossible odds? Check. Tragic character back stories? Check. Really happened? Double-check. This Depression-era racehorse lifted the spirits of anyone who has been told they can’t fulfill their dreams. His 21st century movie counterpart does the same.
Many of us saw this animated version of E.B. White’s classic tale before we could even read. To save Wilbur the pig from the axe, Charlotte the spider weaves into her web that he’s “some pig.” When Wilbur wins a prize at the county fair, his joy is cut short by Charlotte’s death.
Author Willie Morris’ memoir came to the big screen in this lovely tale of another boy and his dog. Willie (Frankie Muniz) is the shy, misunderstood lonely son to stoic parents in World War II-era Mississippi. Civil rights, post-traumatic stress disorder and young love are all highlighted in this film by the loyalty of one small dog.
This is the latest installment in Katherine Butler’s column, Shade Grown Hollywood, where celebrity becomes conscious. “Shade grown” refers literally to shade grown coffee, a farming method that “incorporates principles of natural ecology to promote natural ecological relationships.” Shade Grown is our sustainable twist on Hollywood.