Whether they’re cute or scary, talkative or mute, animals always hold a particular power in cinema – there are even sites dedicated specifically to telling you whether or not any pets get hurt in any given film. With the release of the Wes Anderson’s new stop-motion animated effort, Isle of Dogs, featuring a mainly canine cast, it’s a perfect time to celebrate the very best big-screen beasties. Obviously, this will be a highly subjective list, and we’ve omitted any alien animals from consideration, so feel free to make any corrections or suggestions.
10: The mutant bear from Annihilation (spoilers)
A very recent addition to the canon of cinematic animals, the sheer terror invoked by the most brutal resident of the mysterious ‘Shimmer’ instantly elevated it to all-time status. With an exposed skull and anguished cries in a horrifying human voice, it’s simultaneously a frightening antagonist and a desperate creature that pulls at our empathy in the most unlikely way.
9: Dory from Finding Nemo and Finding Dory
No other film has ever made us root for fish like Pixar’s Finding Nemo, and even in a packed cast of vegetarian sharks, surfer-dude turtles, and Albert Brooks as a clownfish, it’s the well-meaning but slow-witted Dory (Ellen Degeneres) who made the biggest impact. A frequent pick for ORWAV Tops 10s, Dory’s wide, soulful eyes endeared her to the world before helping her carry a film all her own in the sequel. A differently abled hero, beautifully rendered by incredible technology, Dory is that rare movie character that has the entire world quoting them for years. One more time – “P Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney”.
Still making kids cry all around the world over 70 years after its release, Bambi is a major part of the Disney pantheon and gifted us with some brilliant animal characters. From Flower to Thumper, they’re all ridiculously lovable, but it’s the title star who endures best. Stunningly animated as he gallivants around the forest, Bambi remains adorable even as he teaches a young audience about death and man’s cruelty towards nature.
7: Babe the Sheep-Pig
A Best Picture nomination and a sequel directed by Mad Max creator George Miller might not have seemed very likely when the ‘talking pig who herds sheep’ movie was first pitched, but such is the magic of Babe. It more than deserves its success and accolades as a wonderfully sweet film with a revolutionary soul. Not only did the technology for the animals’ speech break new ground, the brilliance, cuteness, and kindness of Babe himself saw a major uptick in vegetarianism when the film was released. That’ll do pig, that’ll do.
A staple of family entertainment for over 60 years, the name Lassie might now be synonymous with cheesiness and silly spoofs of the original material, but we should never discount cinema’s most celebrated dog. With 10 films to her name, Lassie is a hero through and through, always one step ahead of the humans and played to perfection by Pal the collie (a consummate professional according to his biography) and his descendants.
5: Robin Hood
The definitive Robin Hood on screen is not Kevin Costner, Cary Elwes, or even Errol Flynn, but a red fox voiced by stage actor Brian Bedford. Roguish, funny, and the cause of more than a few confusing crushes, the hero of Disney’s 1973 take on the English legend is one of the most charming anthropomorphic animals in animation. Though the film surrounding him might not be as majestic as Bambi or as ingeniously weird as Dumbo, this Robin Hood makes up for that with an absurd amount of personality.
4: Bruce from Jaws
With minimal screentime, Bruce the shark (not actually called Jaws) terrified the entire USA for a whole summer. The once-inviting seaside became dangerous, whenSteven Spielberg deployed his model Great White and created the modern blockbuster in the process. Released in 1975, Jaws still terrifies and shocks today, and even the subpar sequels can’t detract from Bruce’s efficiency as a brutal scare machine. A non-anthropomorphised beast rarely works as a main antagonist, but the viciousness on display here makes Bruce an all-time great villain.
3: The T-Rex from Jurassic Park
After inventing the blockbuster, Spielberg refined it in 1993 with Jurassic Park, and there was no bigger attraction for audiences than the T-Rex. Though the Velociraptors might be scarier, the face and the voice of the cultural juggernaut that is Jurassic Park belongs to Rex. A truly spectacular combination of perfect animatronics and visionary CG, there’s never been a more convincing movie monster than this dinosaur king, who is both a destructive force of nature and an accidental hero. Every second it’s on screen is utterly iconic, always parodied but never diminished, retaining its awe-inspiring power no matter how many imitators come along.
Honestly, this entire list could be made up of Lion King characters, and having to choose just one was almost as hard as picking every other entry. We share in Simba and Nala’s whole lives; Jeremy Irons turns the boldly fascistic Scar into more than just a sneering villain; and the whole comedic supporting cast is pretty much perfect. However, it is of course Mufasa who wears the crown in Disney’s 1994 classic. A majestic king of all he sees, a loving father, and eventually a spirit guide; his death is one of the most traumatic moments in any young film-viewer’s life. James Earl Jones brings weapons-grade gravitas to every scene, and the recent casting for the ‘live-action’ remake shows that Disney are aware that you can’t improve on perfection.
1: Mickey Mouse
One of the most important creations in all of 20th Century art (US copyright law has been rewritten multiple times solely on his behalf). Mickey Mouse is not only a fantastic, iconic, and immediately identifiable character in his own right, but the foundation on which one of the greatest media empires on Earth was built. No Mickey Mouse, no Disney animation as we know it, no Pixar, no MCU, no modern Star Wars. It’s an influence on pop culture that no other single character can claim, and it all rests at the feet of a mouse in oversized yellow shoes. Mainly a short cartoon movie character, Mickey has made plenty of leaps into feature length films, the best of which is probably the hugely ambitious and surreal 1940 masterpiece Fantasia. With 2018 marking Mickey’s 90th birthday, he shows no signs of slowing down as one of the titans of Western fiction.