Who Let the Dogs Outsell the Competition? Who? Who? Who? Who? Who?


Apologies for the lazy title. This will just be a short message, because I have little to say,  no time for another long essay (What? I just gave you 8000 words about A Trip to the Moon? You want it rewritten in blood?) and only one question to ask of my readers. I can’t really think of an elegant way to phrase this, so I’ll just  raise my eyebrows as high as they’ll go, throw my hands up and say: What’s with all the dogs?!

I just walked past a multiplex in Cardiff, and couldn’t help noticing that they’re showing Bolt, Beverly Hills Chihuahua (I was going to link to its website, but it’s obnoxiously loud and ugly) and Paramount’s self-explanatory Hotel for Dogs on two screens each. Marley and Me is “coming soon”, but in the meantime you can rent or buy the DVD of Space Buddies, the seventh (yes, really) in Disney’s hyper-lucrative Air Bud series. I suppose Slumdog Millionaire doesn’t count as a dog film, but it is amazing how quickly the movie industry can pick up and run with a resurgence of interest in anthropomorphic animals (or a resurgence in not being choosy about what’s on next), preferably pups with a jive-talking celebrity voice-over.

rescued-by-roverAt least when Cecil Hepworth made Rescued by Rover in 1903, it was a formally innovative tale of doggy derring-do when it inspired a raft of imitators. (Though I was disappointed to confirm that the baby saved from gypsy abduction, played by Hepworth’s own daughter Barbara, is no relation to the sculptress with same name and birth year.)

Now, I must admit that I’ve seen none of the recent dog movies; further analysis would require me to sit through this stuff, so I’m hoping someone else will explain this phenomenon to me in the style of a slightly snooty cultural studies professor: what is it about today that people need so many dog movies? Am I too quick to presume that the retreat behind a wall of furry cuteness is the cultural equivalent of sticking our collective fingers in our ears and singing loudly to drown out the sound of anything more serious? It’s like buying a kid a new puppy in the hope that they’ll forget about the death of the old one or stop asking questions about the divorce. Puppies: nature’s best distraction from ugly things. Curse these modern fads. Now, what happened to my Rin-Tin-Tin boxset?

5 thoughts on “Who Let the Dogs Outsell the Competition? Who? Who? Who? Who? Who?

  1. One could relate the dog phenomenon to the increasing domestication of man. As man increasingly resembles a household pet, so do his interests. We would perhaps be seeing a bunch of cat movies except for the fact that cats basically don’t care about humans. Dogs do. Thus, dog movies flatter the viewer with a sense of species superiority, a sense that humanity matters, even as people lose their humanity by endlessly distracting themselves with cutesy images of talking dogs. Like Adam Sandler, dog movies could be an ominous sign of human regression.

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  3. Thanks for the diagnosis, Film Doctor – you’ve confirmed my suspicion that this is not just a bunch of cuddly family-friendly movies, but a cluster of signs that the apocalypse is breathing down our colective neck.

    But don’t dogs in movies always turn out to be smarter and more noble than their human counterparts? They’re always the first to sniff out a ghost or other supernatural presence, and never pass up an opportunity to lick the faces of the recently wounded or unconscious.

    My problem with dog movies is that dogs are just terrible actors (with the notable and unfair exception of Gromit). Whenever they’re asked to portray any kind of emotional state (running the gamut from cute to worried via defensive or confused), I don’t see the performance – all I see is a dum labrador eyeing up the scooby snacks that are being dangled in front of them just out of shot. Either that, or you can tell that they’re desperate to stop reshooting that “hilarious” skateboard scene; in those cases, I always assume there’s some kind of cattle-prod or other instrument of coercion just off camera. Invariably, talking movie dogs are supposed to convey “sassy”, when all I can see in their eyes is “hungry”.

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