Our Favorites: Dog Movies.
The Year of the Dog has sired many canine flicks, so we decided to throw a bone to our favorite movie mutts.
This weekend see’s the premier of AXL, a robo-dog story. Last week saw the premier of Alpha, a caveman dog story. The week before THAT saw Dog Days, a dog centered romantic comedy. All told, 2018 has had eight dog movies so far, with two more flea bitten flicks still in the pipe. I’m not even counting what a dog I think the new Venom movie is going to turn out to be!
We’ve gotten a full litter of furry films this year; too bad not a single one has been good! Lest you might think all of the films in this genre are for the dogs, we selected our favorites. In eight different categories, we put the finest cinema hounds to the test. Canine cops, frightening fidos, and tear-jerking terriers are just some of the breeds making up our panel of favorite dog movies.
Dog Movies: Categories.
Best in Show.
This category has two juggernauts of the genre, with Benji and Lassie combining for 15 films. Lassie even has the Academy Awards pedigree, with Lassie Come Home earning a best cinematography nomination. That’s all well and good…but the Wizard of Oz is a gosh darn classic. It won three Oscars and was nominated for seven on its way to becoming a cultural milestone, blowing Lassie’s single nomination over the rainbow and landing a farmhouse on the other hopefuls.
Terry, who later became legally called Toto after his big break, was a work horse of the industry. He started his career in 1934 alongside Shirley Temple in Bright Eyes and finished it alongside Spencer Tracey and Hedy Lamarr in 1942’s Tortilla Flat. Altogether he appeared in 16 films! He was in many Oscar nominated films and earned an adjusted salary of $2200 a week in today’s dollars – more than many human co-stars and eye-popping since it was the Great Depression era.
The Winner: Toto (The Wizard of Oz).
Best Dramatic Dog Movie.
Nominees: Old Yeller, For the Love of Benji, Homeward Bound, Lassie Come Home.
Apparently, best dramatic dog movie is code for “lost dog/dogs make a death defying trip home.” It was tempting to fill the list with just runaway mutt movies. Old Yeller sneaks in to muddy the formula, but doesn’t have the chops to take the prize. Beyond a childhood ruining ending, it’s just not that exciting a film. Homeward Bound has excitement, but little gravity. Leave it to Lassie to find the sweet spot, with heart warming moments, excitement, and even some kitschy humor. If you’re stuck in a well and looking for a dramatic movie to pass the time, tell Lassie to Come Home.
The Winner: Lassie Come Home.
Best Comedic Dog Movie.
Nominees: The Shaggy Dog, Oh! Heavenly Dog, Beethoven, Cats & Dogs.
The competition in this category was surprisingly light; most of the other categories stole the food out of its bowl. For just pure comedic films about dogs, the only real choice came down to a classic: The Shaggy Dog. Disney’s first live action comedy, it starred the inimitable Fred MacMurry and launched Disney down the road to other family friendly funny films such as The Absent Minded Professor, Herby the Love Bug, and of course Darby O’Gill and the Little People. It even saw a modern remake, starring Tim Allen. I guess Robin Williams or Eddie Murphy were busy?
The Winner: The Shaggy Dog.
Best Animated Dog Movie.
If you’re just considering artistic merit, Plague Dogs takes best in show here. Unfortunately, animated films are usually judged by soundtrack, quality of animation and fun factor as well. Plague Dogs is pretty barren when it comes to songs, is not the prettiest animated film, and is only fun if you’re some kind of psychopath. The film that best threads the needle of merit, playlist and fun is 101 Dalmatians, another Disney classic that has already seen a popular live-action remake. It may seem like sacrilidge to pass over Lady and the Tramp…but that film hasn’t aged well. I defy you to remember a song from that film that isn’t a racial stereotype!
The Winner: 101 Dalmatians.
Best Horror Dog Movie.
Nominees: Frankenweenie, Atomic Dog, Zoltan…Hound of Dracula, The Breed, Cujo.
Yeah, not much of a race here. Most of these movies are cable-access B-movie schlock and Cujo is of course Cujo. While the events of the film boil down to “mother and child hide in car while devil dog slobbers on windows,” director Lewis Teague (Romancing the Stone) spins a tension driven yarn that does for St. Bernards what Jaws did for sharks. It may not be the best Stephen King derived film, but it certainly is one frightening fido film.
The Winner: Cujo.
Best Buddy Cop Dog Movie.
Nominees: The Karate Dog, K-9, Turner and Hooch, Top Cop.
For a hot second in the late 1980’s, cop+dog movies were doing brisk business. Jim Belushi, Tom Hanks, and even Chuck Norris were on the receiving end of slobber care of a canine companion. While it wasn’t the first of the litter, Turner and Hooch is undoubtedly the best of the bunch. It benefited from Hanks being at the pinnacle of his comedy career, and from a genuinely interesting story. We’ve already saluted this film once in our look at Cop Comedies, so no need to wag its tail and further.
The Winner: Turner and Hooch.
Best Heartstrings-Pulling Dog Movie.
This is the most hotly contested category on the list. If there is one thing ALL dog movies share in common, it is a naked appeal to sentimentality. (And dogs…but you could guess that from the genre being called “dog movies.”) Even the worst films in the genre make a play for your heartstrings. Heck, Turner and Hooch shoot the dog in order to get your tears rolling, and that’s a freaking comedy!
A case could be made for each of these films: Marley and Me exists solely to play the old heartstrings, The Fox and the Hound is a classic when it comes to using cute animals to put the screws to your tear ducts, and Benji makes up for the invincible lead dog by putting a whole shoe box full of adorable kittens in harm’s way. For all that, no maudlin ending ever hurt so bad as hearing Pa put a bullet in Old Yeller. That ending has ruined childhoods for generations, and will likely never be topped when it comes to causing kids to implode into sobs. Thanks, Disney.
The Winner: Old Yeller.
Most Unfortunately Titled Dog Movie.
Nominees: The Big Stuffed Dog, Heavy Petting, Pudsey the Dog: The Movie, Weiner Takes All: A Dogumentary.
This category is a vicious, one-sided drubbing. Pudsey the Dog: The Movie limps away into the sunset with the title of worst titled dog movie ever…and possibly the worst dog movie ever made, period. Starring a trained dog that won a British talent contest and produced by the UK’s premier sour-puss Simon Cowell, this movie is a one trick pony about a dog that can walk on his hind legs and knock people over. That is literally his one thing, and the movie pounds you over the head with it over and over and over.
Pudsey is the kind of movie that critics live to savage. The film has a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, where such deliciously malicious pronouncements as these are featured:
“This is a British film so depressingly bad that cinemas should play the adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth over a loudspeaker as audiences file out grimly into the foyer afterwards, silently asking themselves if life has any value.” –Peter Bradshaw
“Deserves to be scraped from the lawn, bagged up and dropped into the wheelie bin.” – David Edwards
Ouch. I wouldn’t wish that treatment on a dog!