Split Decision: Talk to the Animals
Welcome back to Split Decision! Each week, we pose a question to our staff of knowledgable and passionate film geeks and share the responses! We may never know if it is legal to park in the center of Broad Street, but we’ll answer movie questions all day long. Chime in on Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments below!
This week’s question:
In honor of The Lion King remake, what is your favorite talking animal movie?
Penguins are my power animal, so here's a repeat of my entry about Penguin films for Salon "Drew! Barry! More Power!": The 10 best penguin movies ever made about my favorite anthropomorphic flightless waterfowl.
The zany quartet of Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private were the breakout stars of the 2005 hit animated film Madagascar. While these denizens of the Central Park Zoo literally flew in the 2008 sequel, Madagascar 2 (well, until Penguin Air crash-landed in Africa and the plot kicked in), they also had their own TV series (2008-12), and, eventually, their own (unrelated) feature film in 2014. In the film, the amusing antics feature Skipper trying to control the other penguins as they embark on various capers. The penguins' interest in "Cheezy Dibbles," leads to a globe-hopping adventure to stop Dave, a jealous octopus who wants revenge on the cute penguins. It's a silly film with some fun slapstick and corny wordplay, such as "You just mermaid my day!" and "Drew! Barry! More Power!"
Summer of Sam isn't the best Spike Lee movie, but I believe it's the only one with a talking dog. And that little pup is voiced by none other than John Turturro, one of the greatest actors alive! Move over, Air Bud, there's a new pooch in charge (of David Berkowitz' actions).
For a minute, I was going to answer this prompt with Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, but that isn't really fair because those talking animals are all toons. The best movie where a person's voice comes out of an animal shape, though? Roger Rabbit all the way.
Babe is a clear favorite for me, and proof that you can have talking animals do an incredible story. Early critiques of The Lion King have been speaking about how "photorealistic" animals, clearly without the benefit of animation, do not have the ability to convey human emotions on their face like the classic Disney films did. Well, Babe used actual, real animals. This proves that it is absolutely possible to tell a compelling story in this manner.
I have to stump for the foxiest fox around with Disney’s 1973 animated Robin Hood. A strange film that takes place in an animal-filled mashup of medieval England and the American South with songs provided by a lute-wielding rooster voiced by Roger Miller. Regardless, it’s charm all the way down. Oo-de-lally, oo-de-lally, golly, what a day!
I think for me at least the most important film with talking animals has to be Homeward Bound. It was one of my most warn down vhs tapes I had as a kid and I think I have cried every single time Shadow gets stuck in the mud at the end of the film. Also all of the actors who are in the film are amazing Michael J. Fox and Sally Fields totally killing it with their performances as Chance the dog and Sassy the Cat. And of course Don Ameche is so good as the wise Golden Retriever Shadow who keeps the team together. This is a movie I will still put on when I just want to watch something and cry because the moment when they are reunited at the end is one of the most emotional moments in film history (yeah I said it). I clearly loved these adventure films involving animals and or toaster ovens trying to find their families. Also not going to lie I think that Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Fransisco is also very good.
I second Homeward Bound, and also add The Adventures of Milo and Otis. Sketchy production aside, I was obsessed with this film as a kid, and it is solely responsible for my healthy obsession with pugs that continues to this day. I loved the idea of a dog and cat becoming best friends and going on an exciting adventure together.
While not a "talking animals" movie per se, my deep and abiding love for Lars Von Trier's Antichrist prevents me from mentioning anything else. Late in the movie, as Willem Dafoe's "He" is starting to realize that his spouse - simply called "She" and played with macabre gusto by Charlotte Gainsbourg - is losing her mind . As her natural cycles and unfathomable grief begin falling into sync with the malevolent forces of the woods, He grows increasingly frustrated with his inability to reach his beloved. During a bout of despondency, He finds himself in direct communication with the woods, most specifically a fox. Von Trier fans have made a sort of meme out of this horrifying moment, and I invite you to join in on the fun.
Check it out, but be forewarned. It's pretty upsetting stuff.
Fantastic Mr. Fox is by far my favorite talking animal movie. Some of the funniest parts stem from the fact that Wes Anderson remembers to treat each character like an actual animal as well. The way they eat, growl and fight with each other sets this apart from your basic kid's movie. I guess it's fair to say that this movie probably doesn't appeal to a lot of children. My two kids have seen it (3 and 5 years old), but it's not one they ever mention or ask for when picking out a movie. And this is because Anderson didn't hold back on adapting this kid's book into a witty story full of his usual dry-humored dialogue and deliveries. The stop-motion animation is also amazing, and definitely amongst the best I've seen.