The British public love animals and films, so combining the two means we’re onto a winner, right? It doesn’t matter what the animal is, we fall in love. However, for movie makers, getting a creature to play the lead role can prove a difficult task. While you can send a human away to learn their lines, it’s not quite as simple with animals.
According to animal trainer, Tersea Ann Miller, your body language and tone of voice is essential to making sure your star is obedient and talking very slow can make a dog look sad and lost. Here, with dog trainers liability insurance suppliers, Cliverton, we look at some of the most iconic animals to have been shown on the big screen.
1. Turner and Hooch
Several years before Beethoven wowed the public, Tom Hanks was joined by a Dogue de Bordeaux as a crime-fighting duo. The cantankerous pooch causes more problems than good for the dog-hating detective at first, but the pair, in time, hit it off as they hunt for murdering drug smugglers.
Throughout the movie, three dogs played ‘Hooch’. One, named Barry, was said to have built up a close relationship with Hanks – so much so he sent the dog’s owner and trainer, Clint Rowe, a letter of appreciation. Well, they do say a dog is man’s best friend!
Perhaps the most iconic dog movie of the past 30 years, Beethoven is one of the highest-earning dog-themed films in history, with a string of Beethoven-related movies following the first two hugely successful productions. The giant St Bernard bundled onto our screen in 1992 when the Newton’s decided to adopt a puppy. The pooch quickly grew into a mischievous canine and provided his family with a huge task of getting him back when he was dog-napped.
While Chris the St Bernard was used in the first two Beethoven movies, he had to share the limelight with another of the breed too. Missy in the sequel had three of our furry friends split the role between them. Rather surprisingly, perhaps, is that a full mechanical dog was also used – as too was a man in a St Bernard suit!
3. Free Willy
Okay, so Orcas may be slightly different to dogs! Free Willy features the relationship between a killer whale in captivity and an adolescent trouble-maker’s journey to free him. The 1993 family film showed how poorly whales are treated after their capture, and the viewing public took Keiko (Willy’s real name) to their hearts, campaigning for his release. While the movie was successful, Keiko’s release in to the wild proved fatal and the whale unfortunately died in 2003.
Following the movie, there have been many petitions to try to stop whales being held in captivity.
4. Black Beauty
This 1994 family drama is based on Anna Sewell’s 1877 novel. Set in the late 1800s, the story revolves around the life of a black stallion and the hardships faced as he passes through many owners. The horse – real name Docs Keepin Time – also featured in the series, The New Adventures of the Black Stallion.
Horse strainer, Steve Dent, whose family have supplied stunt horses to Hollywood for more than seven decades, admits that training horses can be a long task. Speaking to The Telegraph, he said: “To train a horse to fall, you start by teaching them to lie down and go on from there. As long as the area is soft, they’ll always do it. But if you hurt them, then they’re not going to do it. If you see a horse going over in a movie, it’s always onto a bed about a foot or two deep with peat underneath it.”
5. Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey
Okay, so dogs are featured in this too, but it really couldn’t be left off the list, could it? This remake of the 1963 movie which was based on Sheila Burnford’s best-selling novel follows the journey of three escaped pets (two dogs and a cat) who are trying to find their way home to San Francisco from a California ranch.
Throughout filming four Golden Retrievers and four American Bulldogs were used to film Shadow and Chance’s scene, while eight Himalayan cats were featured in the role of Sassy. The animals were trained and supplied by Jungle Exotics and it took seven months to train the animals, with the cats trained to react to a buzzer.
6. Babe: Pig in the City
The ‘90s really did know how to make animal movies, didn’t they? This 1995 production saw a runt-of-the-litter piglet learn to herd sheep after being raised by sheepdogs. The movie was a big hit and was nominated for seven Oscars. While none could actually talk — shock horror, I know — there were 48 purebred Large White Yorkshire pigs used to play Babe over the three-year filming period.
They would work in groups of six and keep rotating over three weeks as the pigs grew. According to Jo Fenney, the head pig trainer for the movie, it’s a lot easier to work with a pig in a movie than a dog. Why? Because “they have so much more motivation for food”.
7. Marley and Me
While we could go on and on about dogs in movies, including K-9, My Dog Skip and Lassie, the final to make our list is the Labrador from Marley and Me. Acquired in the movie to help a couple learn important life lessons, this naughty puppy soon becomes an integral part of the pair’s life throughout the years.
Throughout production of the film adaptation of John Grogan’s best-selling book, almost two dozen Labs were used. Eight trainers were tasked with prepping the 11 puppies, five young adult dogs and three seniors chosen to play the role of Marley. However, training differed from most movies, according to trainers Ray Beall and Mark Forbes. They agreed that because this movie showed dogs behaving like normal dogs, it was almost ‘anti-training’ that was required.
With an abundance of other animal movies that could have made the list, it’s clear that casting animals in the lead role can help your movie be a success. A lot of the praise must go to the unsung heroes too – the trainers!