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Animal Movies: Our Pets, Ourselves View Comments
by Sister Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.



Let’s face it: In most films about animals, the animals die. I still meet adults who recall the trauma they felt when Bambi’s mother died in 1942’s animated Bambi. Film and television shows that involve animals work well because they touch our hearts and teach us about life, nature and ourselves.

It seems that the first animal to be featured in a film was Jean, a female border collie, in The Vitagraph Dog, circa 1906. Jean made $25 a week and starred in several short films. All of Jean’s films are said to be lost.

After Jean came Strongheart, a German shepherd and police dog from Germany. Strongheart appeared in the first film adaptation of Jack London’s novel White Fang in 1925. The Return of Boston Blackie seems to be the canine’s only film still in existence.

A producer discovered a German shepherd named Rin Tin Tin, a performer in a dog show. The producer convinced the owner, who had brought the dog back from France at the end of World War I, that “Rinty” could be the next Strongheart. Rinty’s first role was as a dog raised by wolves and turned into man’s best friend in Where the North Begins in 1923. And the dog, as a loyal hero, is movie history.

Marley & Me

The most popular dog film of all time in terms of box office was Marley & Me in 2008. Based on the best-selling memoir by John Grogan, Marley is the yellow Labrador retriever that John (Owen Wilson) is advised to buy when his wife, Jenny (Jennifer Aniston), starts talking about having children. John’s friend, Sebastian (Eric Dane), tells him that Marley will be a test to see if they are ready to raise a family.

Marley is incorrigible and his behavior causes laughter and embarrassment for the young couple. When Jenny miscarries their first child, Marley is a comfort. John begins writing a newspaper column based on Marley’s antics that supports his growing family. At one point, Jenny seems to be suffering from postpartum depression after the birth of their second child. She wants to get rid of Marley, but realizes he is part of the family.

Babe
While it’s true that Babe (1995) is about a pig, it’s the story of a pig that wants to be a sheepdog. Babe is adapted from the 1983 novel by Dick King-Smith, and its use of both real-life animals and animatronics earned an Oscar for special effects. The film is charming and it effortlessly celebrates the qualities of leadership, respect, self-esteem and empathy.
Winnie the Pooh

Released last July, this latest Disney version of A.A. Milne’s classic characters shows them solving problems in the utopia of the Hundred Acre Wood. The film is based on three of Milne’s original anthropomorphic stories about the stuffed animals that belong to a real-life boy, Milne’s son, Christopher Robin.

What I love about this film is its low-tech approach to animation that skillfully integrates the pages of the book and the illustrations. The very words come to life. Besides choosing the good of another over one’s self, the film celebrates the joy of storytelling and literacy.

Born to be Wild

This documentary is about two women working in different parts of the world to save orangutans and elephants. Through the narration of Morgan Freeman, we learn about Daphne Sheldrick’s work in Kenya to rescue orphaned elephants, then rehabilitate and restore them to the wild. Biruté Mary Galdikas has spent most of her life in Indonesia where she carries out similar work for orangutans.

Sheldrick and Galdikas must also advocate for the preservation of the threatened habitats and against poaching for these endangered species. The work of both women has been reported on television over the years.

Dolphin Tale

Dolphin Tale, starring Ashley Judd and Harry Connick, Jr., is based on the inspiring true story of Winter, a bottlenose dolphin who lost her tail in a crab trap off the coast of Florida. She was rescued and fitted with a prosthetic tail at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. It was not an easy task as she had already learned to swim in a way that, unless helped, would eventually cripple her further.

Dolphin Tale parallels Winter’s story with that of two children of single parents, and a returning soldier wounded in Iraq. Although the film is in 3D, the story is beautiful in its simplicity. The courage of some of the children who visit Winter goes right for the heart.

Milo and Otis

I asked my Facebook friends what their favorite dog movies were. Several chose the Beethoven films that first launched in 1992, My Dog Skip (2000) and Turner and Hooch (1989—a personal favorite of mine). But Milo and Otis (1986), about a dog and a cat raised together, was mentioned many times.

One father wrote: “It teaches good family values as well as values associated with true, lasting friendship. It shows that simple relationships are better because they are straightforward and caring, not complicated and selfish.”

Seabiscuit and Secretariat

Horse movies, starting with National Velvet (1944), are almost always successful. Seabiscuit (2003) was an unlikely champion: His wins uplifted a discouraged nation during the Great Depression. What his jockey, Red (Tobey Maguire), says in the film reflects what most animal movies are about: “You know, everyone thinks that we found this broken-down horse and fixed him, but we didn’t. He fixed us, every one of us, and I guess in a way we kinda fixed each other, too.”

Secretariat (2010) is also a true story about another unexpected champion thoroughbred horse that won the Triple Crown in 1973—the ninth horse to do so since the event began in 1919. The film weaves in the story of a woman’s dream and the tension of being a wife and mother. Actual clips of Secretariat’s wins are integrated into the movie, giving it a true “reality” feel.

Television
It’s Me or the Dog, Animal Planet, check listings: British dog trainer Victoria Stilwell took her cue from the show SuperNanny and realized she could do for dog owners what Jo Frost did for parents: teach respect and discipline to the adults and create a better training environment for dogs. She also
addresses specific problem canine behaviors.
CATHOLIC CLASSIFICATIONS
A-1 General patronage
A-2 Adults and adolescents
A-3 Adults
L Limited adult audience
O Morally offensive

The USCCB's Office for Film and Broadcasting gives these ratings. See www.usccb.org/movies/index.htm.

Find reviews by Sister Rose and others at www.CatholicMovieReviews.org.

Thank you for your comments. Editors will review all posts before they are visible on the website.

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John Paul II: “Open wide the doors to Christ,” urged John Paul II during the homily at the Mass when he was installed as pope in 1978. <br /><br />Born in Wadowice, Poland, Karol Jozef Wojtyla had lost his mother, father and older brother before his 21st birthday. Karol’s promising academic career at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University was cut short by the outbreak of World War II. While working in a quarry and a chemical factory, he enrolled in an “underground” seminary in Kraków. Ordained in 1946, he was immediately sent to Rome where he earned a doctorate in theology. <br /><br />Back in Poland, a short assignment as assistant pastor in a rural parish preceded his very fruitful chaplaincy for university students. Soon he earned a doctorate in philosophy and began teaching that subject at Poland’s University of Lublin. <br /><br />Communist officials allowed him to be appointed auxiliary bishop of Kraków in 1958, considering him a relatively harmless intellectual. They could not have been more wrong! <br /><br />He attended all four sessions of Vatican II and contributed especially to its <em>Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World</em>. Appointed as archbishop of Kraków in 1964, he was named a cardinal three years later. <br /><br />Elected pope in October 1978, he took the name of his short-lived, immediate predecessor. Pope John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. In time, he made pastoral visits to 124 countries, including several with small Christian populations. <br /><br />He promoted ecumenical and interfaith initiatives, especially the 1986 Day of Prayer for World Peace in Assisi. He visited Rome’s Main Synagogue and the Western Wall in Jerusalem; he also established diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel. He improved Catholic-Muslim relations and in 2001 visited a mosque in Damascus, Syria. <br /><br />The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, a key event in John Paul’s ministry, was marked by special celebrations in Rome and elsewhere for Catholics and other Christians. Relations with the Orthodox Churches improved considerably during his ministry as pope. <br /><br />“Christ is the center of the universe and of human history” was the opening line of his 1979 encyclical, <em>Redeemer of the Human Race</em>. In 1995, he described himself to the United Nations General Assembly as “a witness to hope.” <br /><br />His 1979 visit to Poland encouraged the growth of the Solidarity movement there and the collapse of communism in central and eastern Europe 10 years later. He began World Youth Day and traveled to several countries for those celebrations. He very much wanted to visit China and the Soviet Union but the governments in those countries prevented that. <br /><br />One of the most well-remembered photos of his pontificate was his one-on-one conversation in 1983 with Mehmet Ali Agca, who had attempted to assassinate him two years earlier. <br /><br />In his 27 years of papal ministry, John Paul II wrote 14 encyclicals and five books, canonized 482 saints and beatified 1,338 people. <br /><br />In the last years of his life, he suffered from Parkinson’s disease and was forced to cut back on some of his activities. <br /><br />Pope Benedict XVI beatified John Paul II in 2011, and Pope Francis canonized him in 2014. American Catholic Blog Lord, may I have balance and measure in everything—except in Love. —St. Josemaría Escrivá

 
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