Jon Favreau made a “live-action” Jungle Book movie without using one single live animal. Other directors, however, have been braver-slash-stupider, so let’s take a look.
Babe: a movie about a pig raised by sheep herding dogs involved a lot of animal wrangling by necessity. George Miller’s decade-long labour of love meant that 56 animal trainers had to be on set to corral the 1000 animals it took to bring the production together. The talking pig herself was actually a series of 48 real Yorkshire piglets because the babies grows so fast, plus an animatronic double (all the pigs were female – pig penises are too noticeable). A makeup artist would add a toupee and eyelashes to each, and the snout would be digitally manipulated so it appeared to be talking. The film was such an ordeal that James Cromwell, a vegetarian at the time, decided to become a strict vegan afterwards. In fact, the movie made trouble for the whole pork industry.
Turner & Hooch: a buddy cop movie in which a detective must adopt the dog of a dead man to help him find the murderer. Hooch was played by Beasley, a Dogue de Bordeaux, one of the most ancient French breeds. He was so strong that during scenes where Tom Hanks walked him, he would often escape, besting Hanks who would drop the leash. Bad Hooch!
101 Dalmatians: a woman with fascinating hair kidnaps puppies to kill them for their fur, but various animals then gang up against her and get their revenge. Glenn Close starred in the live-action remake, and was so convincing in her wig and makeup that one of the pups, a little guy named Perdy, would always run away. There are 101 Dalmatians in the movie but it took 230 puppies and 20 adults to complete the filming, and an untold number of raw hot dogs to rub over Jeff Daniels’ face in order to induce puppy licking. The dogs were highly-trained actors, but when the handler yelled “Sit”, it was invariably Daniels who did the sitting.
The Bear: an adult grizzly adopts an orphaned cub and evade hunters together. Bart the Bear played the fully grown bear and had to be prepared to act alongside a cub since in the wild a male bear would normally eat him. Trainers gave Bart teddy bears to practice being gentle and when the real cub was finally introduced, all went well. Jim Henson’s Creature Shop made 5 animatronic bears to use as stand-ins but when they were flown out to the Dolomites it was clear they just weren’t convincing enough and were hardly used. Bart was an Alaskan Kodiak bear, standing 9 and a half feet tall and weighing 1500lbs, although do remember that the camera always adds 10. Director Jean-Jacques Annaud called Bart “the John Wayne of bears.” His trainer insists that frequent collaborator Anthony Hopkins (he and Bart starred together in Legends of the Fall and The Edge) “respected him like a fellow actor” and indeed one movie critic credited Bart with “a milestone in ursine acting.” Bart made an appearance at the 70th Academy Awards in a tribute to animal actors, presenting an envelope to un unflappable Mike Myers.
Andre: a “true story” about a marine sea lion who befriends a little girl and her family. Embarrassingly, the real Andre was a harbour seal but the Hollywood Andre was played by a sea lion named Tory because seals are “notoriously hard to train” and “easily distracted.” Tory, like most sea lions, could not be house broken, making scenes shot indoors extra tricky. And little Tina Majorino’s tears were real in the final parting scene in part because Tory smelled so goddamned bad. But Tory went on to have a son named Andre who lives in Memphis Zoo where he pursues his dreams of being an artist – his paintings are available by auction.
War Horse: a young man goes off to war, following his beloved horse recently sold to the infantry. Real horses performed nearly all of the stunts in the movie – charging into battle, trudging canons up a hill – and trainer Bobby Lovgren had his work cut out for him. He trained 14 horses to do the work in this film, choosing horses familiar with parades or rodeo work for their crowd exposure, and then worked on their not spooking around gunfire. The trainer’s own Andelusian, Finder’s Key (star of Seabiscuit), did a lot of the heavy lifting and even did horse “drag” for the birth scene, where he played the mother since using a foal’s real mother would be too distracting. Finder is also the horse who was trained to jump clear over a tank – a feat accomplished using many carrots for bribes, as you can imagine.
Free Willy: the movie’s about a depressed whale set free by a sympathetic little boy but sadly, the orca who played him, named Keiko, was himself held in captivity. The film’s popularity brought attention to his living conditions in a too-small tank with too-warm chlorinated water which made him sick. A custom tank was built for him in Oregon so he was flown from Mexico to his new home where he recovered enough to be moved to a sea pen in 1998. He was finally released from captivity in 2002 after 22 long years “behind bars” but he died just a year later at the age of 27 after the sudden onset of pneumonia.
As you can see, there are lots of deserving animals on set, and The PATSY awards were given out to just such outstanding animal actors ( Picture Animal Top Star of the Year); the very first was given to Francis the Talking Mule in 1951. Other recipients include Spike the dog for Old Yeller, Orangey the cat for Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Sophie the sea lion for Dr. Dolittle. Nowadays it’s all about the Pawscars, hosted by the American Humane Society, where Crystal the Capuchin monkey, aka “The Angelina Jolie of animal stars”, star of Night at the Museum and The Hangover: Part II, received the Lifetime Diva Achievement award recently. And this year the horses who trotted up the mountain in The Hateful Eight were awarded as well as Buttercup, the cat from the Hunger Games series.
Who is your favourite movie animal?