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Are the Best Movie Characters of 2011 Animals?

by Christopher Campbell
November 21, 2011 2:27 PM
6 Comments
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Arthur of "Beginners"

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.

ROTPOTA

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?

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6 Comments

  • emilia | May 27, 2012 8:23 AMReply

    actually i love all animals my favorite animals are chimpanzee, little monkeys,hourses,dogs the small hairy ones, sometime i love cat spatially when they are cute and small with hair ..these are my favorite animals and i really love to watch animals movies cuz i feel like they r with me and i with them and in the same moment iam playing with them and i had animals before i had cats,, dogs,, and yaaa i'll tell u about my story with a chimpanzee .. my cousin bring his friend's chimpanzee and he was sooo lovable and i was in my room that day and my mom was sitting in the living room and she was watching tv and my brother was in his room too.. my cousin brings the chimpanzee in our house and he was wearing a diaper and he was holding him by Chain on his neck and it was a baby but it doesn't look like a baby by the way ,, my cousin toke it to my mom and when she sow it she freaked out and she started laughing on her self and after that she was calling me .. emilia emilia.. i thought that there is something happened when i came to her i sow the chimpanzee is playing and claiming the door and i freacked out too and i played with it until my cousin got to his friend ..,, it really was so fun playing with pits ,, I LOVE THEM SO MUCH -______-"

  • Kogan Sheldon | December 28, 2011 12:41 AMReply

    Just saw War Horse and feel the characters Joey and his black horse friend (whose name I can't remember) are 'way charismatic, great actors. Caesar is exceptional. I drove across the GG Bridge again this a.m. with fog in the cables, and I always see the great apes up there now when that happens. I love it. Oddly enough, I also was touched by the fuzzy little white dog who was the long-suffering companion (a supporting actor) of Charlize Theron in Young Adult.
    That's all for now. Thanks for your work, eye and wit.

  • Ocarina | December 1, 2011 10:10 PMReply

    The dog in the insurance commercials that is paranoid about his bone.

  • Christopher Campbell | December 2, 2011 12:33 AM

    Yes! Not a movie, but still very cute.

  • George | November 22, 2011 11:02 AMReply

    I loved the dog in Beginners and I thought Serkis did an amazing job in Rise.

  • Victor Morton | November 21, 2011 2:46 PMReply

    Among those you didn't mention --

    There are at least two memorable animal performances in Frammartino's THE FOUR TIMES, a goat kid who basically becomes the protagonist for the film's second section like in a Benji film only 10,000 times more realistic and hard-eyed; and a dog who has the film's best scene (and one of the best of the year) a lengthy and very funny single take that is so heavily choreographed with so many elements coming into collision that if the dog doesn't hit its cues, days of work are wasted.

    There was also the titular character in Bela Tarr's THE TURIN HORSE, which goes from heroic and noble to sickly and inert before the humans do, like a canary in a coal mine.

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