Critic's Picks: 12 Great Films for Animal Lovers

2:15 PM 7/8/2016

by Frank Scheck , Neil Young , Jordan Mintzer, and Sheri Linden

Pigs and puppies and camels, oh my! As the 'The Secret Life of Pets' hits theaters, four THR film critics pick their favorite films about animals.

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  1. 12
    12

    The Yearling

    1946

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    Even grown men cry at the ending of Clarence Brown's family fare about the ill-fated relationship between a young boy and the fawn he adopts as a pet. Starring Gregory Peck and Jane Wyman, who both garnered Oscar nominations (child actor Claude Jarman, Jr. won a special award), this was one of MGM's most successful films that year. — F.S.

  2. 11
    12

    Umberto D.

    1952

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    Vittorio De Sica's neo-realist classic features an unforgettable performance by Carlo Battisti (a university professor making his only screen acting appearance) as an elderly Italian pensioner whose only friend is his beloved dog, Flike. Their tender relationship represents one of the screen's great love stories. — F.S.

  3. 10
    12

    The Story of the Weeping Camel

    2003

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    Notwithstanding their screen time with Peter O’Toole, camels get their long-overdue close-up in this deeply moving narrative documentary, set among nomads in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert. Directors Byambasuren Davaa and Luigi Falorni follow the plight of a rare white camel calf, weaving ethnographic detail into poetic fable. In the process they find a luminous language for the interdependence of humans and animals. — S.L.

  4. 9
    12

    The Road Warrior

    1981

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    George Miller's sequel to shoestring megahit Mad Max saw Mel Gibson's Max Rockatansky share the limelight with a scrappy canine chum known simply as "Dog." Arguably the most intelligent creature on view in the entire franchise until Furiosa turned up, this ultra-loyal "Blue-Heeler" steals scene after scene until his sudden, heart-rending (and mercifully off-screen) demise. — N.Y.

  5. 8
    12

    Pet Sematary

    1989

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    Surely the only Stephen King adaptation to feature an original song by The Ramones, this schlocky late-80s chiller has suffered a bit with age, even if the concept of dead pets turning into evil zombies remains fairly unique. Still, co-starring The Munsters' Fred Gwynne in one of his last roles, the Paramount surprise hit would spawn one sequel and lots of traumatized cat loves. A remake is rumored to be in the works, so don't put kitty to sleep just yet. — J.M.

  6. 7
    12

    Kes

    1969

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    The second, and arguably the best, feature from two-time Palme d'Or winner Ken Loach is a devastating story of a Yorkshire boy named Billy who finds solace from his turbulent home life by training a falcon (or kestrel, thus the title) he steals from a local farm. Simple, poetic and deeply moving — especially in an unforgettable scene where Billy speaks about Kes to his classmates — it's both a quintessential coming-of-age film and a high point in Loach's oeuvre. — J.M.

  7. 6
    12

    The Cow

    1969

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    Not usually noted as a film lover, Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini made an exception for Darius Mehrjui's Kafkaesque study of the relationship between man and beast. This multi-layered fable is therefore credited with launching and enabling the whole Iranian New Wave, a movement which reached its flowering via the work of the late Abbas Kiarostami. — N.Y.

  8. 5
    12

    Clash of the Wolves

    1925

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    The four-legged Oliver of the silver screen, German shepherd superstar Rin Tin Tin became an unlikely box-office sensation in the late 1920s. This full-blooded melodrama showcases Rinty's ability to take direction and repeat stunts take after take. No wonder he was — according to legend — voted the first-ever winner of the best actor Oscar, only to be robbed of the trophy by an anthropocentric Academy. — N.Y.

  9. 4
    12

    Bringing Up Baby

    1938

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    The pet leopard played by movie vet Nissa is the least cartoonish element of Howard Hawks’ screwball gem. While Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, at his comic best, trade barbs and pratfalls, Baby maintains her feline dignity with notable aplomb. Upping the star wattage in a key supporting role is the hardworking fox terrier known as Asta from The Thin Man. — S.L.

  10. 3
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    The Black Stallion

    1979

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    Not since National Velvet had the relationship between a youngster and a horse been depicted so powerfully on film. The association was further reinforced in Carroll Ballard's drama, gorgeously photographed by Caleb Deschanel, by the presence of Mickey Rooney, who received an Oscar nomination for his supporting turn as a crusty trainer. — F.S.

  11. 2
    12

    Babe & Babe: Pig in the City

    1995 & 1998

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    Beyond the seamless blend of animatronics and real critters, Babe and its more kinetic, gag-filled sequel gave us a rooting interest for the ages. The charming title character, a pig orphaned by factory farming, might also have inspired some fans to swear off pork products (James Cromwell, perfectly taciturn as Farmer Hoggett, went vegan). With their richly conceived talking menageries, filmmakers Chris Noonan and George Miller hit the sweet spot between poignancy and whimsy. — S.L.

  12. 1
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    Au Hasard Balthazar

    1966

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    Robert Bresson's masterpiece depicting the travails of a donkey as it experiences life at the hands of vastly different owners says more about humankind than animals. It's no wonder that director Jean-Luc Godard described it as "the world in an hour and a half." — F.S.

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