I am a movie addict. I live for the smell of freshly popped corn and the anxiety of choosing the right seat in the theater. I prefer comedies and independent films, but tearjerkers can also be good for the soul sometimes. And while Academy-Award winning dramas and a fair share of Lifetime flicks can evoke a tear or two, I’m also a sucker for any story that involves a struggling animal. I’ve compiled a list of five films I consider great animal movies. There are many more, I just don’t have enough tissues.
Why not the original Benji, instead? Well, because I’ve actually never seen that one. But I grew up watching Benji the Hunted on VHS. The film was one of the last ones starring the lovable, do-gooder pooch. Benji gets lost in the Oregon forest after a boat accident and goes through a series of trials and tribulations trying to rescue a pack of small cubs and get them back to their momma cougar. The film has hardly any dialogue, as it’s tough to train baby cougars, deer, wolves and raccoons to speak. But the musical score and expressions on Benji’s face are more than enough entertainment. It’s a feel-good movie about a dog trying to survive in the wilderness…something I’m sure we can all relate to.
Who doesn’t think of the hit Michael Jackson song when picturing this orca whale jumping over a tween? I know I do. Free Willy is the story of a young boy who befriends an injured whale that has been captured by a group of whalers. Willy (the orca) is sent to an amusement park in hopes that he’ll be the next big moneymaker. The story continues with a series of misfortunate events and concludes when Willy is finally set free. (get it, now?) It’s assumed that man’s best friend is a dog but this classic film proves that man’s best friend can also be the largest oceanic dolphin in the world.
I could watch this movie every day. Yes, it’s a cartoon film, but it’s also based on a true story so I’d say it cancels out. Balto was a dog that saved children from the diphtheria epidemic in the 1925 serum run to Nome in Alaska. When all other sled dogs failed, Balto rose to the challenge and rushed to get through the brutal winter storms and deliver medication to the town. We can’t necessarily say it’s all true—unless the real Balto was also best friends with two polar bears and a Russian goose. Balto promises his platonic love, Jenna, to bring back the medication that will save her owner, a young girl. This film brings a small piece of history to light in the sweetest way possible.
If you can teach a child to ride a bike, you can teach a flock of geese to fly, right? Well, Anna Paquin did in the 1996 hit, Fly Away Home. When Amy (Paquin) moves to Ontario with her estranged father after the death of her mother, she comes across a brood of baby geese that have also been left without a mother. She assumes the role as their caretaker but quickly realizes the geese must learn how to migrate south for the Winter in order to survive. Throughout the film, Paquin and her father struggle to get to know one another but work hard to find a solution for the birds. The film is original in that it shows that any animal can relate to a person and people can respond right back.
It’s cliché and you love it. Marley and Me, based on the memoir by John Grogan, tells the story of a family and their dog that was there through it all. The blonde overload somehow works on-screen—Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston and the golden lab that ties them together deliver a great film. Life can take unexpected turns at any point in time but your pets will always be there as long as you allow them to be. A pet knows you better than anyone—they see what no one else does and sense when you’re happy or sad. Marley’s death is inevitable and obvious, but I still cry every time he takes his last breath. When an animal touches your life the way Marley did, losing him is losing family. It’s a beautiful story and the film also set the record for the best Christmas Day box-office opener ever, so they must have done something right? (Fun Fact: 22 different Labradors played the part of Marley in the film.)