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Creature Comforts

By Laura Fries

W.C. Fields once famously quipped, "Never work with children or animals."  Apparently, Hollywood never got that memo. Animal films have long been popular with kids and are usually rewarded with box office success. How else could you explain "Beverly Hills Chihuahua? "

More often than not, however, you can almost hear a collective groan from parents who have endured endless talking dog movies or other anthropomorphic marvels. Don't let fear or desperation lower your standards. If your kids have a penchant our furry and fuzzy friends, you can embrace their tastes with some, well, taste. A good, well-produced film about our animal counterparts can be inspiring, educational and entertaining. Many classics such as "The Yearling" and "Old Yeller" often turn up on classic movie lists. Others like "Ratatouille" and "Stuart Little" have become recent family favorites and kids know them by heart. If you are looking for something different to keep your animal lover entertained, take a look at our list of Creature Comforts.

Watership Down (1978)
Epic themes take center stage in this animated film about a group of rabbits with a highly sophisticated society. Based on the Richard Adams book, this is anthropomorphism at its best. These rabbits aren't just fury and cute, they're articulate, colorful creatures who display true spirit of camaraderie.  Directed by Martin Rosen, it features the voice talents of John Hurt, Richard Briers, and Nigel Hawthorne.

Duma (2005)
A recent entry from family film director Carroll Ballard, this film flew under the radar in theaters, but should definitely be on your list for family movie night. The story follows a young boy who adopts and befriends an orphaned cheetah in South Africa. While many films portray unrealistic animal/human bonds, Ballard has a knack for keeping it real. It's also good to note that Ballard's films are all monitored and approved by The Animal Anti-Cruelty League.

Greyfriar's Bobby (1961) and The Adventures of Greyfriar's Bobby (2006)
Famous in Edinburgh Scotland for his unparalleled devotion, the movie is based on the Skye terrier who refuses move from the grave of his beloved owner. He becomes a well-known fixture in the town, but when officials want to take away the "stray," the colorful townsfolk ban together to let the dog fulfill his duty. 

March of the Penguins (2006)
From their courtship dance in their ancestral breeding grounds to the hopefully successful hatching of a chick, viewer's can help but become enthralled by Emperor Penguins of Antarctica. This French production took more than a year for the cinematographers to film, during which they lived an isolated French scientific base. This beloved gem marched off with an Oscar® for Best Documentary.

Planet Earth (2007)
This Emmy-Award winning documentary series is a must see. One of the highest rated Discovery Channel productions ever, the show not only explores our planet, but our place in it. Covering different ecosystems in each episode, it offers viewers an unprecedented look at some amazing and little known creatures in their natural habitats. The BBC version is narrated by Richard Attenborough; the American version is by Sigourney Weaver.

Fly Away Home (1996)
A very loose interpretation of the actual experiences of a Canadian inventor and artist, "Fly Away Home" is a visually stunning and well acted film. Anna Paquin stars as a young girl who goes to live with her estranged father following the sudden death of her mom. After rescuing some geese eggs threatened by developers, she raises the goslings on her own. When she has to find a way to get them to follow their migratory route, she gets her father, an ultralight aircraft hobbyist, to help teach them to fly.

The Black Stallion (1979)
From "Fly Away Home" director Carroll Ballard and "E.T." scriptwriter Melissa Mathison, the film is based on the classic 1941 children's novel. A visual marvel, the film was selected for preservation in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry for its cultural, historical and aesthetic significance. How much more of a recommendation does a film need?

The Bear (1988)
Focusing on compassion and respect for nature, this film from Jean-Jacques Annaud follows the trials of a young grizzly cub and his "adopted" big brother. While trying to evade a pair of hunters, a bond of survival and friendship forms between the two animals. Beautifully filmed, the movie contains some harrowing moments for the animals and a mating scene that may prove too much for younger viewers.

The Incredible Journey (1963) and Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993)
Both are entertaining, although the 1963 version is a lot more faithful to the actual story and is told without dialogue. The remake features the voices of Sally Field, Don Ameche and Michael J. Fox and creates a fun and heartwarming dynamic between, Shadow, a golden retriever, Sassy, a Himalayan cat and an American bulldog named Chance.

Babe (1995)
"Babe" is one those films that can reduce a stone cold heart to a pile of mush. Funny, touching and wonderfully acted, the story follows a pig who wants to herd sheep. It remains the animal family film by which all others are measured.

Where the Red Fern Grows (1974)
This classic film about a young Oklahoma boy who saves his money until he can afford two beautiful redbone hunting dogs has caused much debate over which is better-- the 1974 version or the recent 2003 remake of the Wilson Rawls book of the same name.

White Fang (1991)
Jack London's story of a young man seeking his father's goldmine in the wilds of Alaska may be too much for younger audiences, but viewers ten and up will enjoy the adventure. Ethan Hawke stars as the man who works hard to earn the loyalty of a half-wolf named White Fang.

Rikki Tikki Tavi (1975)
Younger viewers will certainly delight over this classic, which is short and sweet and faithful to the Rudyard Kipling classic about the adventures of a young mongoose. Directed by legendary Bugs Bunny animator Chuck Jones and narrated by Orson Welles.

Virginia's Run (2002)
A modern horse movie that got dismissed at theaters for lack of special effects, "Virginia's Run" is hidden gem you'll want to discover. Two sisters become closer when they raise the foal of their deceased mother's horse. A touching drama with spunky female leads, starring Joanne Whalley, Lindze Letherman, and Gabriel Byrne.

Born Free (1966)
Based on the true story of the naturalist Joy Adamson and her husband George, a game warden in Kenya. The young couple adopts an orphaned lion cub Kenya and work to retrain her so she can be released back into the jungle.

The Adventures of Milo and Otis (1986)
This live action Japanese film follows the harrowing adventures of a curious kitten named Milo and his unlikely friend, a devoted pug named Otis. When Milo accidentally sets sail down a river, Otis makes it his mission to look after his cat friend. The movie has some harrowing moments for the cute animals, but colorful narration from Dudley Moore keeps most of the action light and fun.


About the Author
A freelance writer and TV Critic for Daily Variety, Laura Fries has been writing about TV and film entertainment for more than eighteen years. She lives with her husband, daughter and a small menagerie of pets in Alexandria, Virginia.



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