Monday, June 6, 2011

Pet Peeves About Pets

Today’s rant is courtesy of guest blogger, Lassie:

I have a bone to pick with Hollywood (Get it? Bone?  Sorry… dog humor.).  Don’t get me wrong.  They’ve kept me in Milk Bones since I was a pup, not to mention a series of starring roles with humans playing second fiddle, so I can’t really complain about my treatment.  It’s my other animal brethren who haven’t fared quite so well over the years.  Specifically, I take issue with the gratuitous nature of using pets as plot devices.

Unless it’s a Disney production, it’s a safe bet that pets exist in movies only to die.  This shamelessly manipulative plot device has been used for years.  Take a beloved family pet (the cuter the better), capture the audience’s attention with an establishing scene, giving viewers ample time to respond with the appropriate “oohs” and “ahhs,” then watch the pet meet its untimely demise.  It’s a surefire way to play with the audience’s sympathies, and a blatant means of telegraphing villainous intent.

There are numerous examples of such flagrant offenses to cinema -- too many to catalogue here.  Besides, do you have any idea how difficult it is to type with paws instead of hands?  One of the worst instances in recent memory involves a kids’ fluffy bunny in Fatal Attraction.  The bunny is introduced earlier in the film, only to end up in a boiling pot.  It’s not really central to the story, and exists only to demonize the Glenn Close character.  In the more recent film Splice (okay, this one’s from Canada, not Hollywood, so sue me), a cat is befriended by the humanoid Dren, only to be arbitrarily dispatched by the creature later on.  It’s a cheap ploy by the filmmakers that only makes her seem more unsympathetic. 

Gratuitous animal death is not necessarily confined to bad movies.  The German shepherds in Terminator 2 and the original Halloween are dispatched because they’re unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time – in the script.  In Drag Me to Hell, the adorable kitten becomes an object of sacrifice.  Admittedly, the next example doesn’t even stem from Hollywood, but it’s obvious that the compulsion to toy with an audience’s emotions has spread overseas.  For me, the most disturbing scene in Lady Vengeance, was when the protagonist shot a puppy at point blank range, presumably intended to demonstrate her cold-bloodedness, and determination to carry out her revenge against the man who ruined her life.  Thanks, Chan-wook Park!  I could have happily lived a lifetime without ever seeing that.  Were these movies better because of the scenes?  That’s debatable.  The question is, what would it have been like without the animal deaths?  What if the pets had never been in the story in the first place?  Would the director have been incapable of realizing his vision?

So, are pet deaths in movies always unwarranted, and a needless distraction?  I would answer with a resounding no -- not if it’s in the service of the story.   Case in point: the classic Disney tear-jerker Old Yeller.  I doubt I’m giving much away by saying that he dies at the end.  Old Yeller is about the titular dog and his relationship with a young boy. We have invested ourselves in this canine character, and when he dies, our emotions have been earned.

Oh, yeah, and while we’re on the subject of Disney, enough with those Buddy movies!  They’re giving dog flicks a bad name, and keeping serious animal actors like myself out of work!  And don’t get me started on Beverly Hills Chihuahua.  But I digress… This is supposed to be a rant about animal cruelty, not cruelty to humans.

Case studies have indicated that psychopathology often begins with cruelty to animals.  The senseless torture and killing of animals is like a gateway drug to violence towards our fellow humans.  Yet we see this sort of thing depicted in movies all the time.  Why is this acceptable?  For a society that professes to love pets so much, Hollywood sure enjoys killing them off.  Hey, I love repetition.  I never get tired of chasing cats or greeting people by sticking my muzzle in inappropriate places, but even I can’t stand to see this overused cliché. 

Well, I gotta run.  If you’ll excuse me, I have some butts to sniff.  This is Hollywood, after all.  Woof!


  1. xD Absolute perfection!! I'm nominating this for Blog of the Year!! ;)

  2. Thanks! Lassie will be pleased. ;)

  3. Barry, two things annoy the hell out of me in movies: parents being killed off, and pets being killed off! Your Lassie post blends comedy with excellent points about what pets go through in movies.

  4. Thanks for reading! I'm definitely with you on the dead parents thing too.

  5. I agree with Lassie! I've skipped movies like drag me to hell because I heard what happened. Maybe I'm missing a good movie but I'm okay with that..

    1. I don't blame you. That scene in Drag Me to Hell really bothered me.

      And don't get me started about movies that depict real animal deaths... I'll never see Cannibal Holocaust.