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The Best and the Worst of Animal Movies

Animal Movies

The Lion King (2019) is a polarizing movie. I personally have not seen the movie yet, but I also don’t plan to. I don’t feel that I need to pay to see a movie that I can basically watch at home on VHS for free. Yet, it has sparked an interesting conversation about animal movies.

Is it realistic for animals to show emotion? Is it better to use animation for animal movies to better showcase that emotion? What makes a good animal movie compared to a bad one?

Let’s take a look at a few animal movies — both animated and non-animated — and see if we can find the answers to these prominent questions.

The Lion King (1994)

Despite having not seen the new version of The Lion KingI’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the original is much better than the live-action version. Whether that is true or not I have yet to confirm, but the pattern with sequels and remakes is that the original tends to be more loved. Let’s look at why that’s true of this specific animal movie.

animal movies

Image via Entertainment Weekly

First of all, the original Lion King is animated. The new version of The Lion King is pretty much entirely CGI; it will never capture the characters quite as well as the original animation. The original animation allowed the characters to have a range of emotions. One other thing I’d like to point out is that with the original animation, you could suspend your disbelief a bit more. The characters could do things actual lions and other African animals simply couldn’t. With CGI, that ability is lost as anything the animal does must be realistic or the audience will reject it.

Plus, the original Lion King is colorful; the landscape really pops. This is in contrast to the actual savanna, which is more a mix of yellows, greens, and browns. While the realism may be a refreshing change to some, it takes away what many enjoyed about the original.

The Secret Life of Pets (2016)

Illumination Entertainment bothers me for a multitude of reasons, but I’ll try and put that aside as much as possible to give The Secret Life of Pets a fair shake. They actually produce decent animal movies that have their heartwarming moments, but there are just a few things I would like to point out.

First of all, giving a dog human teeth is about the creepiest thing you could do. Maybe it was meant to make Max look more friendly or more relatable. Whatever the reason was, I’m not sure it was a good enough reason to implant humanoid teeth in a character that walks on all fours and is covered in fur.

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animal movies

Image via The Atlantic

The other thing I don’t particularly enjoy is how rounded the characters are. All the surfaces and textures seem unnaturally soft; every object has a sort of roly-poly shape to it. I realize this may be a bit of a nitpick — this is just the style of animation that Illumination chooses — but it just makes everything ten times goofier. It makes me cringe more at the potty jokes and it screams at you that the film you are watching is a kids’ film. To me, it’s a juvenile style of animation that really shows who Illumination’s audience is.

Also, I really hate Illumination’s dependence on potty humor.

Babe (1995)

Let’s be honest: most animal movies that involve actual animals with human voices coming out of them are kind of horrible — Cats & Dogs (2001), Stuart Little (1999), and Beverly Hills Chihuahua (2008) are all prime examples. But Babe really works for some reason.

Maybe it’s the addition of seasoned actor James Cromwell as the farmer. Maybe it’s almost the complete absence of any potty humor (which seems to be a staple in animal movies). But I think what truly sets apart Babe as a great animal movie is it’s a movie with heart. It has a great moral for both adults and kids and, despite it featuring no animation, musical numbers, or vibrant colors, it holds your attention for the entire film.

Image via Common Sense Media

Unlike The Secret Life of Pets, Babe doesn’t cater down to its audience. It tells kids that they, too, can be treated just like adults and that, even if they don’t entirely catch on to the plot, they will enjoy the movie just the same.

I mean, the addition of a cute pig doesn’t hurt matters at all. Or the fact that the animals aren’t creepily animated to move their mouths when they’re talking because that is the worse thing that can happen to an animal movie.

The Cat in the Hat (2003)

The Cat in the Hat is terrifying and something no child or adult should ever have to endure. First of all, the casting of Mike Myers as the titular cat? The worst decision ever made in casting history. Even casting Halloween (1978) horror villain Michael Myers would have gone over better than casting Austin Powers as a beloved children’s character.

Then we move on to the fact that the movie is filled with innuendos that really don’t add anything except a darker element to the story. Although, if we didn’t have this movie, we wouldn’t have the wonderful meme of the Cat in the Hat holding a bat getting ready to take a great whack at the back of someone’s poor cap (excuse my mediocre attempt at Dr. Seuss rhyming).

Image via DeviantArt

The Cat in the Hat is probably the best children’s horror film I’ve ever seen. But that’s about all it is. I wasn’t a fan of pot-bellied Alec Baldwin or that horrifying Cat in the Hat makeup, nor was I fan of the Pleasantville (1998) setting that made the whole thing deeply disconcerting. I think it’s possible The Cat in the Hat shows a little too much emotion for an anthropomorphized animal.

The Best and Worst Elements of Animal Movies

Now that we’ve looked at a few animal movies, let’s go through and analyze what makes one good and what makes one bad.

The first thing a good animal movie has is emotion. Yes, it’s true that in real-life animals do not show as broad a range of emotion as humans. Yet, that doesn’t mean that animals cannot show any emotions! Even if an animal movie is not completely animated, animals can still show a semblance of emotion. Have you not seen a dog excited and happy? Or a lion’s intense eyes as it stalks its prey? Animals have emotion!

Keep away from the potty humor. Animal movies feel that just because they aren’t using real actors and because the film is most likely meant for kids that they can go for that low-hanging fruit. This is far from true! Kids can appreciate more than just low-grade potty humor and lame jokes. Throw in some more sophisticated comedy for the whole family to enjoy! I promise it makes the film that much better!

In addition, don’t cater purely to kids. Sure, kids will most likely be the ones watching the film, but that doesn’t mean adults don’t want to enjoy it too. Don’t feel the need to talk down to people. Tackle hard issues! If you want a great example of this, look at Zootopia (2016). The film captured racism and other topics without condescending to children; both kids and adults appreciated this!

Image via Forbes

Finally, just never cast Mike Myers as the Cat in the Hat again. It’s the most terrifying thing to happen to cinema.


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9 Responses

  1. I haven’t seen any of these. My favorite animal movie is “The Incredible Journey” from 1963.

  2. Nadine says:

    Have you seen the trailer for the “Cats’ the musical movie? Judging by the trailer I think it is going to be an awful one

  3. 18cinemalane says:

    Great article! You brought up a lot of points that I agree with, especially when it comes to watching The Lion King at home vs. spending money to see it at the theater. An important element to animal movies, or any movie, that I’d like to include on this list is having a good story. It not only has to be written well, but it also has to be well told. The worst movie I’ve seen this year, so far, is “Ace of Hearts”. What made this movie terrible was the poor screen-writing, along with other issues. The story had so many plot holes and inconsistencies, that I stopped taking the movie seriously after a certain point.

  4. elmarinero77 says:

    Worst talking animal movies and no mention of ‘A Talking Cat!?!’ ? (Yes, the punctuation is in the title) Eric Roberts darkest hour and needs seen to be believed.

  5. I wholeheartedly agree with a lot of this, but Cat in the Hat is so truly terrible that to me it’s genius.

  6. Great article! I’ve seen an awful lot of people ridicule the new Lion King for the characters having a lack of expression, but when watching the movie, I never got that sense at all, to be honest. Obviously it can’t be as exaggerated when trying to be realistic, but I thought it was more than sufficient, and no doubt helped by the voice acting.

    I also am not a fan of toilet humor, which is so prevalent in kid’s movies, but boy does my 6-year-old nephew love it. It’s kind of cheap to pander to children with fart jokes, but heck, even The Lion King (1994) does it.

    I agree that children shouldn’t be treated like idiots in terms of storytelling and I admire children films that maturely cover more adult topics, like Zootopia, as you mentioned.

    Lastly, I agree that The Cat in the Hat is an abomination, hahaha. I still to this day consider it to be the worst movie I’ve ever seen.

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