This weekend, the live-action Dumbo hits theaters, paying tribute to that iconic elephant that can fly. Disney has its share of famous movie animals, but family films as a whole have never lacked for heartwarming tales about all types of critters. But which cinematic animal is the all-time best?
My vote, oddly enough, isn’t from a kids’ movie.
I Am Legend stars Will Smith as Robert Neville, a scientist who discovers that he’s immune to a worldwide plague that’s eradicated the human population. (Those who are left have been turned into vampire/zombie monsters that can’t go out during the day.) Robert lives in what’s left of New York City, convinced he can find a cure, and his only real companion is his loyal dog Sam. In this terrible post-apocalyptic hellscape, they’re the best of friends, even if one of them can’t talk.
In real life, I’ve never been much of a dog person — c’mon, cats are way better — but director Francis Lawrence does a superb job of making Sam a three-dimensional character. There’s a soulfulness to the pup that echoes I Am Legend’s despairing tone. The movie’s incredibly tense, but there are also these quiet moments when Robert grieves for everything that he’s lost, including his family. No surprise, then, that the prospect of losing Sam would kill him, which leads to a heartbreaking scene in which she gets infected and he has to put her down.
Most times, I’m not affected by the death of animals in movie, but Sam’s demise gets me every time. She was such a good girl.
Below, other members of the MEL team offer their picks for the best movie animals, including sloths, chihuahuas and one nasty shark.
Bruiser Woods, Legally Blonde
Bruiser, a chihuahua, accompanies her best friend Elle Woods everywhere as Elle begins law school at Harvard. Bruiser mostly lives in Elle’s designer handbags, especially the Prada ones.
Elle’s new Harvard classmates initially diss Bruiser as yet another symbol of her L.A. cluelessness, but in the end, it’s Bruiser’s unwavering cuteness and loving spirit that compels Elle and her nemesis Vivian to connect.
I also like the scene when Bruiser barks at the Taco Bell chihuahua as one of its “Yo Quiero Taco Bell” commercials plays. I like this scene so much that I did a little research and found out that Bruiser and the Taco Bell dog are played by the same chihuahua, a female named Gidget. As the tail from the casting couch goes: Gidget was originally cast as the Taco Bell dog’s girlfriend, but upon seeing her work on set, the director recast Gidget as the male lead in the spot. Gidget passed away at 15, but obviously remains among the most iconic animal actors of our time. — Tierney Finster, Contributing Writer
Flash (The Sloth), Zootopia
I’m not sure if a cartoon animal counts, but my love for Zootopia and Flash feels like the most appropriate answer. Zootopia is the 2016 Disney film that has to be the best personification of animals I’ve ever seen. As such, Zootopia does a great job of mixing human traits with the inherent traits of specific animals. For example, in a scene where Judy (our protaganist bunny) and Nick (our unwitting protaganist fox) need to go to the DMV, they find Flash the Sloth. The DMV looks and feels like the real-life version (i.e., slow af); the joke, of course, is that Flash is the fastest person working there. Still, Flash speaks so slowly that it’s physically painful. Nick goes on to tell Flash a corny joke, and to witness him laugh at this joke, in the slowest way possible, is nothing less than genius. — Ernest Crosby, Video Editor
Mr. Beefy, Little Nicky
For the unintiated, Little Nicky is an Adam Sandler film where the protagonist, Nicky, is a son of the Devil who must come to Earth to capture his two evil brothers. The plot doesn’t really compute, but that’s okay because an adorable talking bulldog named Mr. Beefy is sent to assist Nicky in harnessing his evil ways in order to complete his task. For example, Mr. Beefy teaches Nicky how to eat Popeyes fried chicken, sings creepy lullabies in his sleep and ultimately serves as the film’s moral compass.
All of which is to say Little Nicky was one of my favorite movies as a child, and I watched it on VHS frequently. Why I was allowed to do so at seven years old and what exactly I gained from it is beyond me, but that’s no fault of Mr. Beefy’s (that’s all on Mr. Sandler). If anything, a talking dog from hell is the only part of the movie that makes sense. Either way, Mr. Beefy remains close to my heart all of these years later. — Magdalene Taylor, Editorial Assistant
Bruce the Shark, Jaws
I’ve only pissed my pants once when I was sober, in the summer of 1985. Technically, I pissed my bathing suit, but I wasn’t in the water at the time so it’s really all the same. My friends and I fell victim to an older boys’ prank while at the beach: They warned us that a pair of great white sharks had somehow made it all the way up the Long Island Sound and were last spotted the next beach over. One of the guy’s dad was a fireman, so by my 8-year-old logic, the story checked out.
What I didn’t know, obviously, was that two of their friends were 50 feet off the coast, swimming toward us wearing dorsal fins.
I spotted them first, which only made matters worse since I withheld the discovery, hoping to will them away with my pre-pubescent gaze. But the fins only got larger as they got closer, and were somehow headed right for us. I reminded myself that sharks couldn’t swim on land, but then again, I had no tangible proof of that. I only noticed the delicate trickle landing in my docksiders when one the Pearce brothers — a real dick — announced it to the entire beach.
All of this, of course, because I’d just watched Jaws at a sleepover the night before.
Still, I have a lot of affection for the movie today. In fact, it’s the first thing that comes to mind when fear strikes. The lesson: Chill out, it’s never as scary you think it is. For example, the shark was actually named “Bruce” — after Spielberg’s lawyer, Bruce Rainer — and really, how dangerous can something named “Bruce” be? Bruce was an amalgamation of three different animatronic characters whose movement was powered by pneumatic mechanisms that combusted in salt water. Whoops. One of the Bruces even sank to the bottom of the ocean floor, which is where I try to send my existential dread when it crops up once or twice a year.
Jaws is also a lesson in ingenuity. Realizing his star had literally sunk, Spielberg instead created a much more terrifying character — the shark that we don’t see — created by our imagination thanks to John Carter’s sound mixing, Verna Fields’ editing and John Williams’ score: Two notes, an E and an F, played on a tuba.
On second thought, I’m lucky I didn’t shit myself. — C. Brian Smith, Sr. Features Writer