Marley and Me. Image via YouTube

Why I Don’t Watch Animal Movies

Pet death is a part of life, but I don’t care to see it magnified on a 50-foot screen.

By KELLI MARSHALL

Generally within two weeks of the term, my film students learn I do not see many movies with animals as main characters.

“What about My Dog Skip?” they ask.

“No,” I quickly respond.

“Okay, then Snow Dogs? Lassie’s films? March of the Penguins? Beethoven? K-9? Babe? Turner and Hooch? Because of Winn-Dixie? Benji’s movies? Eight Below?”

“Nope to all of the above,” I say. And to the last one you mentioned, “Hell no!”

“Well, surely you’ve seen Old Yeller?” They always save that one for last.

“Yes, I have,” I admit while cringing. “However, I was eight,” I explain. “It was forced on me (in school, I think), and I will never see it again.”

I eventually tell my students I’ve seen Homeward Bound, 101 Dalmations, Bambi, Seabiscuit, Finding Nemo, The Lion King, The Fox and the Hound, and Free Willy.

Additionally, I’ve read Charlotte’s Web and Where the Red Fern Grows. Someone also handed off The Dogs of Babel to me with no warning. But honestly, I probably will never screen or crack open any of these works again.

Although I was once a member of PETA, my stance has little do with the organization’s mission that “animals are not ours for entertainment.” Furthermore, it’s not that the creatures in the movies are just so cute I can’t stand to watch them.

Frankie Munoz in My Dog Skip, which I will never, ever see. (Images: Random House.)

Marley and (Not) Me

The main reason I do not see or read many texts that feature animals as main characters is that somewhere in the narrative, an animal — often the one in the lead role — will inevitably be hurt and/or killed, leaving behind an image of a grieving human who clutches onto nothing but fond memories of his/her pet.

Yes, I know that some movie animals — like the one in My Dog Skip, for instance — make the trek to “The Rainbow Bridge” because they are old and not because like Old Yeller or Bambi’s mother, they are maimed or shot. For this reason, some tell me, “You should watch the movie. After all, nothing bad happens to the dog; she just dies of old age.” Sorry, but I’ll still pass.

While I am completely aware that untimely deaths are a part of life for those of us who adopt pets, watching this occurrence on a 50-foot screen is just not how I care to spend $12.00 or two hours for that matter.

Never again, Old Yeller. Never again. Images: Imgkid.com

Fight Me, But It Ain’t Gonna Happen

Some may argue two things about my adamance: first, as a film professor, I shouldn’t discount any movie; and second, my stubbornness is causing me to miss out on some wonderfully told stories and/or teaching opportunities.

Regarding the first point, actually there are several movies the masses should overlook (e.g., lots of contemporary horror films, movies in which characters, almost always women, are raped, etc.). And don’t even get me started on Hollywood’s history of animal cruelty, which you can read more about here, here, and here.

My critics’ second point — that I am denying myself touching bits of storytelling — definitely holds more weight. These people have a point.

What’s more, some instructors like Margo DeMello effectively use animal movies to teach real-world conditions of marginalization and exploitation. She and her students apparently consider how nonhuman animals share aspects with representation of human “out-groups,” whether their outsider status derives from race, gender, class, or sexual orientation.

While likely beneficial for students and instructors, still, these are films I’m willing to forego.

Dog/God/Dog

People have long speculated why the word dog is the reverse of the word god, claiming that “dogs demonstrate the closest thing to ‘god-love’ that humans can experience.”

White Dog (Kornel Mundruczó, 2014)

Consequently, it’s no surprise the adjectives we often use to describe our understanding of God’s positive attributes are the same that we usually cite for what our pets also provide: protection, comfort, forgiveness, loyalty, understanding, compassion, friendship, and perhaps most significant, unconditional love.

In a mere two-hours’ time, however, Hollywood will inevitably put an end to at least one of these spiritual qualities, all while informing us that an animal’s life is short-lived, much more fleeting than our own.

Again, this is a prompting I don’t need to see, much less one magnified onscreen. After all, I am reminded of this fact every February 24 and April 2 (if not before), the days on which my cocker spaniels, Baxter and Scout, were born.

My Baxter and Scout.

Further Reading

For those who feel similarly about animal movies, visit Does the Dog Die? and No More Dead Dogs before you head to the theatre, pop in that DVD, or stream that latest flick.

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