Horses and canines seem to play the top-dog roles in Hollywood . From the 1940s to the present, four-legged friends like Black Beauty, Lassie, and Misty have warmed our hearts and entertained our families.
Based on Anna Sewall's children's classic, this film offers the life history of a Victorian-era horse. The horse himself endearingly relates his own story about his ups-and-downs with a series of masters. A 1946 black-and-white version, though not as good, also has charms. But beware the 1971 version.
The Black Stallion
1979; 118 min.
Get ready to watch a truly magical film that is a feast for the eye and the soul. In the movie's first half, a boy and a horse are shipwrecked on a desert isle, bond, and have many adventures; in the second half, they are rescued, train as jockey and racehorse, and then compete for a racing championship. Containing fine acting, a magnificent horse, and stunning cinematography, this movie is based on another classic children's book by Walter Farley.
1961; 92 min.
Misty tells the tale of a boy and a girl living on an island off the coast of Virginia who befriend a wild horse. Filmed where the story actually takes place, it features beautiful settings. The film is based on the popular Marguerite Henry book, Misty of Chincoteague.
My Friend Flicka
1943; 89 min.
The story concerns an imaginative boy who loves and tames a rebellious colt, much to the surprise of the stern father who misunderstands both son and horse. Beautifully filmed, this is an excellent adaptation of Mary O'Hara's classic novel.
1944; 125 min.
A heartwarming classic, the film takes place in England, where a young girl wins a horse, trains him with the help of a male friend, and then enters him in the Grand National Steeplechase. The movie features one of the most superb horse-racing sequences in all of film and a star-studded MGM cast (featuring Elizabeth Taylor and Mickey Rooney).
The Red Pony
1949; 89 min.
In this faithful adaptation of Steinbeck's classic novella, a boy bonds with a horse to escape his family's constant bickering. This version (see below for another) was written by Steinbeck himself, was directed by the great Lewis Milestone, and is graced by an evocative Aaron Copeland score.
1973; 100 min
This newer version, made for TV, features a great performance by Henry Fonda as the boy's father, and won a Peabody Award for outstanding drama special.
Lassie Come Home
1943; 90 min.
Here you have the classic boy-and-his-dog movie. Young Joe is forced to give up his beloved collie because his family is so poor it can no longer afford to feed a pet. The dog escapes from his new owner, the Duke of Rudling, and returns to Joe. To prevent another escape, the Duke takes Lassie far away (from Yorkshire to Scotland). When freed by the Duke's kindly granddaughter, Lassie makes a long, heroic journey back to Joe (don't worry -- everything works out ok). This movie made Lassie (actually a whole series of Lassies) a star and spawned a number of sequels, a radio show, and a TV series.
Never Cry Wolf
1983; 105 min.
Based on a true story, this film relates the adventures of a naturalist who travels to the Arctic to study wolves by living with them. A tenderfoot in terms of wilderness life, he almost dies before he is rescued by an Eskimo. Thereafter he gradually bonds with a wolf pack. His crisis comes when the pack is threatened by a band of hunters. This is one of the most beautiful nature films ever made. There are no children in this movie, but children will identify with the hero because he has a childlike sense of wonder, curiosity, and willingness to try almost anything (like dining on mice, to find out why wolves eat them).
1957; 83 min.
After Dad sets out on a cattle drive, his youngest son finds a stray yellow dog and adopts him. Eventually the whole family bonds with "Old Yeller," but their attachment to the dog will be severely tested. This movie confronts some difficult issues, including the loss of a beloved pet (have your hankies ready) and making the transition from child to adult. It provides a nice re-creation of rural Texas life in 1869.
1991; 107 min.
In a fine adaptation of Jack London's novel, a teenager heads to Alaska circa 1900 to find and work his dead father's claim. Fortunately, he finds an older mentor to teach him about gold mining and wilderness survival, and a half-wild dog to love and protect him. Beautiful nature photography and a stirring film score enhance this tale of a naive but resourceful boy growing up.