‘Lion King,’ ‘Apes': The Five Best Movie Animals Of 2011

Lions and tigers and a panda bear. Lizards and elephants and werewolves and dogs and cats and rabbits and monkeys. Yes, from the supernatural woods of “Breaking Dawn” to the seafaring adventures of “Tintin,” it was a good year for animals at the movies. And since we’re lovers of both animals and movies, we naturally had to look back at the past 12 cinematic months and select our favorite non-human creatures from the kingdom Animalia.

5. Rango, “Rango”
The problem with a movie that comes out in March is that by the end of the year everyone tends to forget about it when talking about what Hollywood had to offer. Which is a shame, because Johnny Depp’s Rango is a gem of a character: weird, insecure, artistically ambitious, instantly likeable and a snazzy dresser. Oh, and he’s easily Depp’s finest performance in years.

4. Animal, “The Muppets”
Is he a muppet or a man? Who’s to say? He is Animal. And in a year in which “The Muppets” stole our hearts (and maybe even a few tears), there’s just no way we were going to put together a top-five list that didn’t include the drummer for Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem.

3. Joey, “War Horse”
In a film that’s just too maudlin to take seriously (unless, apparently, you’re an Oscar voter), this beautiful equine beast galloped across the farms of England and the mustard gas-filled trenches of France, holding the camera at every turn as strongly as any biped actor we’ve seen all year. Forgive the hokey suggestion that all that was needed to bring World War I to a peaceful end were a few more Joeys, and what you’re left with is director Steven Spielberg’s beautifully-shot effort to give the “Saving Private Ryan” treatment to a horse. Joey earned this.

2. Scar, “The Lion King”
He sings. He schemes. He kills James Earl Jones. While we first got to know this nasty brute back in 1994, Disney’s 3-D-ification gave us another shot to mingle with Jeremy Irons’ lion, and we came away with the impression that Scar is one of the greatest villains the Mouse House has ever created. “My teeth and ambitions are bared. Be prepared!” should be Newt Gingrich’s 2012 campaign slogan.

1. Caesar, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”
In a just world, Andy Serkis walks away with an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, because no one — human or chimpanzee — delivered a more convincing, heartbreaking performance in 2011. The fact that he accomplished this feat while ensconced in a mo-cap suit with a camera strapped to his noggin should only increase our respect for the guy. Hail, Caesar. And hail, Serkis.

Which movie animals were your favorite this year? Let us know in the comments section and on Twitter!