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Monday, Oct. 3, 2005 08:35 am

Don't abuse the animals

New animal films continue long line of successes

March of the Penguins is now the second most successful documentary ever released in the United States, and it is tops in the animal category. March is clearly the movie surprise of the year, and it is hard to understand why these odd birds would attract such a large audience. Animal and nature movies are rarely taken seriously because most are aimed at the children’s market. Dumbing-down for tykes reduces appeal to adults. Another problem is the fear factor. The concept of being frightened by a horror film is baffling, but the prospect of seeing an innocent animal abused by a human being is more terrifying than any bloodsucking creature or knife-wielding maniac. Unfortunately, abuse and killing are common factors in the genre, and for that reason I will never subject myself to the horrors of Bambi. Less traditional animal movies are preferable, and Christopher Guest’s Best in Show (2000) is a comic gem. This mockumentary follows a handful of dog owners as they prepare for a prestigious dog show. Guest eschews outrageous humor, preferring to focus on the subtle and very real quirks of a group of oddballs. You won’t find a better dog movie. Shiloh (1996) is a more traditional boy-and-his-dog tale, but it rises above the level of an average kiddie flick. A young boy faces the dilemma of trying to rescue a small beagle from an abusive owner. Some of the scenes are a bit hard to take, but Shiloh does present an unfortunate reality. Abuse of two tigers also figures into the plot of Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Two Brothers (2004), which is an excellent companion piece to that director’s earlier animal feature The Bear (1989). Two tiger cubs are separated and, years later, forced to fight each other for the sake of entertainment. Movies such as this one can make you hate the human race and cause you to root for the animals in films such as The Birds (1963) and Jaws (1975). Victims of Hollywood prejudice, domestic cats don’t do as well in movies. Why do dogs get all the good roles, whereas cats rarely receive more than supporting status? Sure, if the filmmakers need a quick scare in a horror movie or an animal to sit on the villain’s lap, they’ll call a cat. Any other time, the job goes to the dogs. (I felt that this was important to point out.)

DVDs scheduled for release Tuesday (Oct. 4): The Interpreter, The Amityville Horror, and My Summer of Love.
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