The Best Animal themed movies

list of Movies for dog lovers
A list of movies that dog lovers must watch!

How and when I fell for movies is not clear to me. Was it in those grainy black and white scenes from Aparajito? In an age when subtitles were yet to be a seen on television, my grandfather would translate the dialogues from Bangla.  Perhaps this love seeped in when I watched Guide and wished to be one on growing up, unlike my classmates who preferred professions that would involve planes, space shuttles or the guns.

An escape from life, art always offers respite for all the worldly woes. An impression of the past that is now all but gone, breathing slowly to live in a painting or that musical note of a longing or of love, you choose.   But it’s there.  Like life itself leaving its mark ─ as brief as the purple flush of dawn or eternal as the skies.

But it’s there.

Like life itself leaving its mark ─ as brief as the purple flush of dawn or eternal as the skies.

Of the myriad themes and genres, I have touched, movies for animal lovers have always ruled the roost. From the well-known to the relatively obscure, this dog has compiled a list of some cinematic gems you might enjoy. I have skipped some popular titles like Marley and Me, March of the Penguins, Cats and Dogs, Free Willy etc. for most of you would have already watched them.

Here’s the compiled list of Best movies for Animal Lovers:

Two Brothers (2004)  Genre: Adventure/Family 

Two Brothers movie poster tiger cubs

From one of my favorite director, Jean-Jacques Annaud (The Bear) Two Brothers follows the perils faced by two tiger cubs on separation (not at the hands of fate but humans) and their eventual dramatic reunion. Lost to circus and cruel fights, the two brothers meet as forced enemies’ years later. Watch out for the enthralling finale! 

Red (2008)  Genre: Drama/Thriller

Red Movie review, a man fights for justice after his dog is killed by rigue teenagers.

Punctuated with an incredible performance from Brian Cox, Red tells the story of a veteran recluse seeking retribution for the murder of his best friend ─ a dog named Red.  Unlike the run of the mill revenge movies that Hollywood studios often churn out, Red is a study in righteousness. Red shines in its grief, prides in its realism where a crime against an animal is taken as a sorry affair but accepted norm. It is one of those rare dog movies where the title character has the minimum screen time and yet is present throughout in his master’s longing and pursuit for justice. Red is there in the nail scratches on the door, the empty bowls and forbidden dog collar; like a persistent memory inspiring Avery (Brian Cox) on his pursuit for justice against the rogue teenagers who killed his best friend. With a screenplay that merits the Jack Ketchum novel, Red is as raw as life itself.

Highly recommended!

Shiloh (1996)  Genre: Drama/Family

shiloh Shiloh movie review, Shiloh movie poster, Shiloh dog movie friendship

Based on the beloved novel by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, Shiloh narrates the story of a boy who befriends a dog he met wandering on the road. The owner of ‘Shiloh’, a hunter mistreats him. This coming of age movie makes us feel the weight of the baton which we must carry for our friends. As late movie critic Roger Ebert aptly said for the movie, “Adults may have the power to take away a kid’s dog and tell him a story about it, but they do not have the right. It isn’t some dumb kiddie picture. It’s about deep emotions, and represents the real world with all of its terrors and responsibilities.”

A Boy and his Dog (1975)  Genre: Sci-fi/Black comedy

a boy and his dog movie review.

I might be courting trouble for listing this controversial post-apocalyptic film which bends on societal norms but then what good is a list that doesn’t leaves you with an uneasy feel in your guts. Often ridiculed for its misogynist theme, this movie adaptation of Harlan Ellison’s novella in its core is a sci-fi with a love triangle – love or friendship?

Set in 2024 AD, A boy and his dog follows the survival adventures of a boy Vic and his best friend ‘Blood’ with whom he is able to communicate telepathically. Rated R, the stays true to its tagline – A rather kinky tale of survival.

The Cave of the Yellow dog (2005)  Genre: Drama

Cave of the yellow dog movie review, the cave of the yellow dog movie poster

Slow as life itself, this artwork shot in a documentary style asks for patience from the audience.  The scenic locales and ethnic Mongol culture shot up close and personal with sheer honesty would make you believe that you are there in the moment, in the wilds and the grasslands. It brings to screen the tale of a little girl who finds a pup.  Although the parents are against the idea of adopting the dog, she persists and… (OK, no spoilers here!)

A Dog’s Life (1918)  Genre: Comedy

charlie chaplin - a dog's life movie poster, charlie chaplin - a dog's life movie review

In the thirty-minute short A Dog’s Life, poor and out of luck Charlie Chaplin finds an adorable homeless pooch and together they battle crooks, discover love and ward off their financial troubles. A delighting short movie!

Halo (1997)  Genre: Family

Halo 1997 movie poster

Santosh Sivan’s Halo captures the innocence of childhood beautifully. Seven-year-old Sasha has lost her mother; her yearning for maternal affection keeps her lonely. To keep the little girl upbeat, the doemstic aid fabricates a story that a miracle will happen in the form of a Halo. Coincidentally there comes a street dog and Sasha believes it to be the miracle sent by god. Her entire world begins to revolve around Halo – she talks to him, sleeps with him until the day Halo goes missing. Sasha’s search takes her to the streets of Bombay (okay, Mumbai) and its various occupants. This National Award winner boasts of a climax that is bittersweet. It leaves you with a lump as well as a smile and that my friend is no mean achievement.

Eight Below (2006)  Genre: Adventure/Family

eight below movie poster, Eight Below true story Huskie

In the later half of 1950s, Japanese scientists stationed in Antarctica had to leave an expedition midway on account of harsh storm. Among many things they left behind, there were also some lives – the sled dogs. The amazing true story of the dogs rescue was painted on the celluloid in Japanese cult classic Nankyoku monogatari (1983). Eight Below is Disney’s homage to the same. Eight sled dogs left chained at the research base wait for their master to return in an unforgiving wild and white Antarctic winter.  The flights are cancelled until next spring and the subtitles reading the no. of days the dogs have been on their own in the wilderness leave us with a longing to hold these Huskies. Your heart goes out to the guide Jerry (Paul Walker) who in every frame lives this pain. The cinematography is spot on, the long shots capturing the face of the protagonists – the dogs, stay true to their grit and valor.   

Duma (2005)  Genre: Adventure/Family

Duma movie poster, Some friendships are wilder than others.

Duma brings to screen a believable story of friendship between a boy and well, a cheetah.  The team of Xan, the boy and Duma make you believe, in a heart warming way, of somewhat mild mannered Calvin and Hobbes. Unlike what studios of late have relied up on – special effects and eerie story lines, Duma is a breath of fresh air that resonates with the past. Let this gust lead you to the wild like a Rudyard Kipling story.

Tahaan (2008)  Genre: Drama

tahaan movie review, tahaan movie poster, donkey and a boy indian movie

Another winner from Santosh Sivan, Tahaan is perhaps the only movie after Balthazar which shows that resigned aloofness that a donkey has to his fate. The gentle beast of burden often mocked by humans as a reference for dimwits is truly a sage. If only one have the eyes to see.

Tahaan narrates the story of a poor Kashmiri boy whose donkey has been confiscated towards payment of his family’s debts.  Trapped between the tensions of India – Pakistan differences, this innocent movie, set it in the breathtaking landscape of Kashmir, draws on compassion and friendship that a boy has for his donkey.

My Dog Tulip (2009)  Genre: Animation/Drama

my-dog-tulip-poster, my-dog-tulip-review

An animated movie unlike any, My Dog Tulip is not for the kids. Don’t be alarmed, it is the story of a man who rescues a dog and lives with him for close to 15 years, discovering the only true love that he ever will in his life. Based on the autobiographical novel by J.R. Ackerley, this aesthetically hand-drawn animation with splashes of watercolor depicts sorrow, embarrassment and love of a man who is concerned and convinced about his dog’s needs and loneliness. Very private in its details which often verge on the border of startling, it shows with genuine concern what a popular movie say, Marley and me, would steer away from. A study in canine behavior, Tulip’s needs is voiced with a genuine concern in Christopher Plummer’s narration.

For a more definitive list, please also see War Horse, The Life of Pi, White Dog, Ted, The Artist, HachikoMy life as a dog and White God

Which is your favorite animal movie?

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Movie review Au Hasard Balthazar – Life in an hour and half!

"Au Hasard Balthazar movie review "

Sometimes it’s not the tale but the art of telling it which makes it great. Au Hasard Balthazar, Robert Bresson’s pièce de résistance is an animal movie unlike any. Every ten years, Sight & Sound polls a wide international selection of film critics and directors on what they consider to be the ten greatest works of cinema ever made, the 2012 list has Au Hasard Balthazar at #16.  Set in the bucolic backdrop of French countryside, this allegorical tale follows the life of a donkey─ from burro to becoming beast of burden, and the inevitable end.  This motion picture evokes emotions lurking so deep that you never knew they existed. At times you wonder if you are watching the movie or if the movie is watching you. Balthazar causes you to get out from the comfort of your seat and shakes you up from inside. Every black and white sequence is a sheer cinematic joy, every scene, an ode. It leaves the viewer wanting more, an exclamation mark in movie making!

 Timid farm girl Marie (Wiazemsky) and her donkey Balthazar have an idyllic childhood, but the turn of tide takes them on separate paths. The donkey passes through several owners, most of them cruel and apathetic. An unfettered view of human cruelty, suffering and injustice, filtered through the eyes of a donkey – Movie review Au Hasard Balthazar.

Their lives run in parallel as both get abused at the hands of humans.  And as the story unfolds you see how Balthazar is the only one who is selfless. Living well within the periphery of a donkey’s life, never comes a moment where in Balthazar does something ‘extra-ordinary’, he does what a donkey does, silently bearing the brunt of callousness…accepting whatever gets thrown at him.

Poetical and plaintive in its rendition, it’s only with death that Balthazar returns to peace that he had as a burro. The piano score by Schubert justifies the tranquility of a demise marked by prolonged abuse, like an elegy for the saintly donkey.Noted film critic and director Godard’s hailed Au Hasard Balthazar “the world in an hour and a half” and that “everyone who sees this film will be absolutely astonished” and true he was!  It offers cinematic joy, so rare and precious that a viewer, enchanted by the imagery, feels at once fortunate for having experienced it and remorseful for the plight of the poor thing.

Roger Ebert aptly quotes, “Balthazar is not one of those cartoon animals that can talk and sing and is a human with four legs. Balthazar is a donkey and it is as simple as that. The genius of Bresson’s approach is that he never gives us a single moment that could be described as one of Balthazar’s “reaction shots.” Other movie animals may roll their eyes or stomp their hooves, but Balthazar simply walks or waits, regarding everything with the clarity of a donkey who knows it is a beast of burden, and that its life consists of either bearing or not bearing, of feeling pain or not feeling pain, or even feeling pleasure. All of these things are equally beyond its control.

If you don’t think it impertinent of a dog to lecture a human then take my word and allow yourself the bliss of this donkey’s bray. For what torrid fates equines encounter is none for us to take. I hope when you see a donkey next, if not anything else, let it be kindness with which you pass it by. And the haunting question that Balthazar poses isn’t- if there is a god but the hypothesis that he exists but has renounced us. And by the time the screen fades to black, you are left wondering if the ‘beast’ were human(s).

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