The Best Fantasy Animal Movies

The delightful Ratatouille made me realize that while there are many, many movies about animals, there aren't all that many movies about animals in truly fantastical situations, at least for animals. There's lots of movies about dogs and cats and Bambis and giant apes doing extraordinary things like saving Timmy who fell down the well, or kidnapping beautiful women, but even these are mere extensions of what is essentially natural behavior. Even cute adorable bunnies mutated into predatory carnivores isn't quite what I'm looking for. I'm looking for what I found in Ratatouille: something sweet and funny, but also something philosophical and provocative.

Turns out there ain't that many movies like this, and they're an entirely a modern development.

My most favoritest of all is Paulie (1998). This deeply touching and hilarious movie about a talking parrot -- a parrot who genuinely communicates, doesn't just, you know, parrot -- never fails to make me sob tears of joy at the end, when the love that has kept the bird going through long years of abuse and misunderstanding is finally vindicated. The very talented and usually ill-used Jay Mohr supplies the voice of Paulie (he also appears in a small human role), and it may well be his best performance ever. I don't intend that to sound facetious or mean: he makes Paulie a wonderful creature, one you'd love to befriend.

A very close second and third are Babe (1995) and Babe 2: Pig in the City (1998) -- I actually slightly prefer the sequel for its bitter, baroque darkness. But there is something elementally pleasing about the first film, about the love and trust between Pig and Farmer, about the resolute kindness and friendliness of Babe, about how it weaves a complex emotionalism out of a very simple story.

I likewise love the innocence of Stuart Little (1999) and Stuart Little 2 (2002), which resisted the urge to hip up the classic children's stories and let the little mouse among people be his own kind of charming. [my reviews are here and here]

I haven't seen it since I was a kid, but I have fond memories of Disney's The Cat From Outer Space (1978), the title of which pretty much says it all. And I have to include another Disney cat flick, The Lion King (1994), because how often do you see a lion playing Hamlet?

Finally, I'll mention two other examples of rodentia cinema that share a certain element of fantasy: Willard (2003) and Mouse Hunt (1997). What do they have in common? Well, you're never quite sure whether the headlining rat or mouse actually has the supernatural capability to either bewitch Crispin Glover (in Willard) or drive insane Nathan Lane and Christopher Walken (in Mouse Hunt; my review), or whether the humans do that to themselves. But it's a helluva lot of fun trying to figure that out.


MaryAnn Johanson (email me)

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Movie & TV Awards 2018