Streaming spotlight: dog days

The best of canine cinema you can catch online

by Jennie Kermode

Marona's Fantastic Tale, one of the best dog films of recent years, is still awaiting release, but there are other treats you can enjoy while you wait
Marona's Fantastic Tale, one of the best dog films of recent years, is still awaiting release, but there are other treats you can enjoy while you wait

Today marks the first of the dog days of summer, a time when, farmers will tell you, the heat drives people to do bizarre things. What's less well known is the source to which that increased heat was traditionally ascribed - the dog star, Sirius, which shines so brightly in the sky at this time of year that it was thought to warm the Earth much as the sun does. In tribute, we're focusing this week's Streaming Spotlight on some of our favourite dogs in the movies.

Isle Of Dogs
Isle Of Dogs

Isle Of Dogs - Amazon Prime, Chili, Google Play, Rakuten TV

Can you imagine a world without dogs? Whilst the Covid-19 pandemic has seen them provide vital companionship during lockdown and give people an acceptable reason to get out of the house, Wes Anderson's 2018 animation sees them blamed for a plague and banished from human society as a result, exiled to the titular island where they eke out a living with nothing to eat but trash. All this could change, however, when a small Japanese boy runs away to the island in search of his beloved pet and a pack of alpha hounds decides to help him in his quest. With an all-star cast (including Anderson regulars Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton, the film balances sentiment with a brusque, no-nonsense attitude and an acceptance that Bad Things Happen, but justice may yet be done as unlikely alliances emerge. The richly detailed landscapes provide constant surprises, the characters are endearing and there's plenty to entertain viewers of all ages.

Red Dog
Red Dog

Red Dog - Amazon Prime, Chili

Based on a true story that's well known in Western Australia, and a huge hit on native turf, Kriv Stenders' epic tale follows the exploits of a dog who lost his master and travelled far and wide in search of him, connecting members of a disparate community in the process. Helping out wherever he can and making a big impression on everyone he meets, this canine hero is seen to embody the spirit of the outback. He finds help in unexpected places but also does remarkably well on his own. Stenders elicits a charismatic performance from his canine star but also manages to keep the supporting, human cast interesting, a rare feat in an animal-centred film. The trick lies in the way that he uses the story to explore aspects of rural Australian life. Gorgeous, colour-rich photography doesn't help. Viewers should be aware, however, that the film has a sad ending (signalled at the start), so have some tissues handy.

The Artist
The Artist

The Artist - Amazon Prime

It would be impossible to talk about dogs in film without addressing the work that showcased the talents of the most popular Palm Dog winner to date. Whilst this isn't, strictly speaking, a film about a dog, It's clear from the moment he appears that Uggie is the real star, and his versatility as a performer makes it difficult for his human companions to keep up. Reportedly bribed with sausages by director Michel Hazanavicius, he plays the hero's loyal companion, who keeps him going through a series of misfortunes, remaining loyal through obnoxious and self-pitying behaviour that drives away everyone else,and eventually helps him to accept the affections and support of the heroine. Romance may be the film's central theme but the love between man and dog is every bit as important, and even without the opportunity to use his vocal talents - the film being silent - the little Jack Russell wins the hearts of viewers too.

Lady And The Tramp
Lady And The Tramp

Lady And The Tramp - Disney, Amazon Prime, Chili, Google Play

Sometimes a girl from a nice family who has every advantage in life finds herself unable to resist the charms of a guy from the wrong side of the tracks. It's an old story but at 65, this Disney classic retains a puppyish charm. Persuaded to leave her upper middle class home when it turns out that her owners are expecting a baby, the elegant cocker spaniel Lady - saved from beautiful blandness by her sharp wit - tries out life on the streets with the distinctly ragged but youthful and energetic mongrel Tramp. Things do not go to plan in a film that touches on some decidedly dark subjects for Disney, but viewers can watch secure in the notion that true love will win out, and the beautiful animation still holds the power to charm young viewers despite the very different and much faster-paced entertainment they're now used to. There's also a sensational soundtrack composed and partly sung by the great Peggy Lee.

Pick Of The Litter
Pick Of The Litter

Pick Of The Litter - Netflix, Amazon Prime, Rakuten TV

Patriot, Poppet, Primrose, Potomac and Phil - five of the cutest puppies you could hope to meet, playful and eager to learn new tricks. But these are no ordinary puppies and their education has a very specific purpose. All members of the same litter, they've been specially bred to make good guide dogs. The thing is, assisting a visually impaired person takes skill as well as natural talent, and it takes a very particular kind of temperament. Not all of these dogs will make the grade. Don Hardy Jr and Dana Nachman's documentary follows them as they adjust to life with foster families and go through their training. Each one has a distinct personality, which the trainers encourage, because the same will be true of their eventual owners - and it means that every audience member will find one to adore. Along the way, you can watch unexpected bonds form between some of the dogs and their carers, leading to an ending that will leave you claiming to have something in your eye.

Frankenweenie
Frankenweenie

Frankenweenie - Disney, Amazon Prime, Chili, Google Play

For as long as taxidermy has existed, people have been trying to preserve beloved pets post-mortem (sometimes in number, as Coraline fans will note) - but few have gone quite this far. Tim Burton's 2012 animation sees the young Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan) undertaking a dramatic experiment in order to resurrect his furry friend Sparky. The result isn't most people's idea of a cute puppy but many viewers will find him adorable nonetheless. The problem is that when they see him Victor's schoolfriends all want their pets revived as well, and some of those pets have been deceased for quite some time. Questions arise about progress and responsibility as a parade of little monsters terrorises the town. It's all shot in black and white with many a visual reference to the old Universal horror films, but Victor's story is easy to relate to and Sparky effortlessly steals the show.

Dog Lady
Dog Lady

Dog Lady, Amazon Prime

Every now and again one hears of children raised by dogs. Humans can fit into packs with surprising ease, the group adapting to make best use of each individual's talents. But what about adults choosing to live that way? Laura Citarella and Verónica Llinás gently paced, almost dialogue-free film features a mesmerising performance by the latter as a woman who lives in the wilderness with a pack of dogs as her companions, building their home out of salvaged items, growing food, hunting and scavenging with them. The hostility shown to her by humans only confirms to her that this lifestyle is preferable to their company. Reminiscent in many ways of 2019 documentary Los Reyes, this fictional work invites viewers to reconsider social norms. Its canine stars are marvellous, moving around the set as if they've lived there for years and interacting with Llinás and one another with natural chemistry.

Adam And Dog

This beautifully animated tale, which won an Oscar nomination, is set in the Garden of Eden and muses on what happens when boy meets dog and then boy meets girl. The story is very simple and it doesn't have a whole lot to say but the character of Dog is very well realised and it's a joy to watch.

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