There is a website related to movie spoilers called “Does the Dog Die?”
It’s an old screenwriting trick – if you want to show a character being evil (it shows, don’t tell, remember), have them hurt an animal, preferably a dog or cat. And that website is devoted to revealing all onscreen deaths, but it’s a great resource for those who have difficulty watching animals be hurt.
But there are other movies that explore our relationship with our furry best friends that don’t involve hurting them. These are the best movies about dogs. Some of them are cute, some of them deal with incredibly complex ideas.
Isle of Dogs (2018)
Wes Anderson is the kind of filmmaker who creates entire worlds worth living in, filled with just a level of quirk that you can find charming. In the Isle of Dogs, Anderson utilizes a stunning voice cast and stop motion to tell the story of a young boy who travels to the island to find his dog, whose breed has been banned from his homeland.
It’s as simple and sweet as it sounds, putting aside any affected preciousness for the real thing. And it doesn’t short on breeds. Though animated, you see every kind of dog imaginable – too many to even list. But if you want a movie about an island where you can spot a golden retriever, a poodle, a labrador, a lab-retriever, a dachshund, a golden doodle, you name it, Isle of Dogs has the right amount of whimsy and, if not the specific animal, pretty darn close.
White Dog (1982)
While Cujo would be amusing on a list that celebrates dog love, it’s not a particularly great Stephen King adaptation. King has said he was so heavily involved with cocaine and alcohol at the time, he doesn’t remember writing Cujo.
For my money, White Dog far surpasses any killer dog movie one could think of. Iconic Western director Sam Fuller’s chilling tale of a neo-Nazi’s dog who has been trained to kill African Americans may not sound like a dog-lover’s film, but the implications it makes are even more relevant today than when it was made. It also becomes a fascinating character study as a doctor (Paul Winfield) attempts to deprogram the dog.
It’s not a heartwarming story by any means, but it’s a fascinating contemplation on the nature of how we treat one another in society (and an issue never more relevant than right now) and, by extension, our animals.
Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993)
While some may prefer the 1963 original, which featured no talking animals, there’s a soft spot for 90s kids who grew up with this one that’s earned. The original is powerful, though the human scenes are overwrought. Duwayne Dunham’s sweet reimagining couldn’t have been voice-casted better, with a willing Michael J. Fox taking the lead as the overexcited retriever.
Don Ameche’s sage advisor animal lends appropriate gravitas, while Sally Field’s cat is very much what you’d expect a cat to sound like.
It’s not perfect, but it’s ideal for age-appropriate children.
Best In Show (2000)
One of Christopher Guest’s best improvised comedies features scenes and one-liners too many to list or quote. Even side characters like Larry Miller’s hostage negotiator have scene-stealing moments, but the focus is on the owners of dogs at a dog show – who are inarguably a strange group of people in real life. Here, they’re lampooned, but with genuine affection.
You never get the sense they’re mocking dog-lovers, just laughing along with them. It’s especially telling that, in a film rife with exceedingly silly people, you actually care who wins.
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