A list from the esoteric brains behind Filmhash. If you have a list topic, let us know, and we’ll…come up with something!
1. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
One of the reasons that making a ‘talking animals’ film is so challenging is the inherit fancifulness of the concept. Over the course of this list, we’ll see several strategies to get around it. Fantastic Mr. Fox sidesteps the issue entirely by making everyone a cartoon. While we spend most of our time with highly anthropomorphized animals, the stylization of the world also extends to the human antagonists, who are also shown in a fun stop motion style. The other thing that sells it is the stellar voice cast with George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson, and more all doing fantastic work.
2. Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993)
Another way to avoid cartoonish talking animals is to not animate the animals. This is the approach taken by Homeward Bound. The heartwarming story of lost pets finding their way home uses voice over to great effect. And while the animals don’t talk to humans directly, the audience is privy to all of their thoughts.
3. Babe (1995)
This is the exception that proves the rule. Most films in which real animals are animated with lip movements are pretty terrible. Babe is pretty good. All things considered, the lip animations are fairly subtle and that helped elevate the material (as much as talking animals can be elevated) to the Best Picture nomination this film earned. “That’ll do, Pig. That’ll do.”
4. Planet of the Apes (1968)
The original is still the best, and the other way to get past ridiculous-looking animals is to go the sci-fi route. Watching this film recently, I was struck by how good the ape makeup effects are. It actually looks really good, and though the quality of it declined with each sequel (thanks to reduced budgets), the first entry is a landmark for actor makeup. And it’s classic sci-fi to boot (an early script draft was done by Rod Serling of The Twilight Zone fame). The new film seems to use mostly CGI motion capture, so we’ll have to see how that turns out. But it’s not like Andy Serkis does’t have the requisite experience…
5. Doctor Doolittle (1967)
I recently read about this road show picture flop in the book Pictures at a Revolution by Mark Harris, and it caused me to recollect how much I enjoyed this film as a kid. Although, at two and a half hours it’s too long by half, the production took years, and filming took place in three places. However, the animals (who were not treated all that well) actually look pretty good in the film (except for the Giant Pink Sea Snail).
Jill’s Honorable Mention: The Adventures of Milo and Otis (1986)
Using a similar voice-over/narration technique to Homeward Bound, Milo and Otis remains to this day one of my favorite movies. It also cultivated my obsession with Pugs at a young age, and the possibility of one day having my own cat and dog best buddy duo.