Should we be ashamed that our favorite movie as a kid was “Air Bud”? Absolutely not. Do we still want to watch animal movies as an adult? Obviously. As someone who unironically watched “Santa Pups” on Christmas a few years ago, I am a staunch proponent of any movie or show featuring non-human creatures. That being said, you don’t have to compromise good writing and storytelling just to have a really snuggable main character. And while nothing tugs at our heartstrings quite like a dog story, there are other animals in the kingdom who deserve the spotlight once in a while. We’ve rounded up six of our favorite animal stories on Topic that will make you want to hug your pet a little closer.
Picture a snobby spaniel voiced by Jeneane Garofalo or a crotchety German shepherd voiced by Lewis Black, and they’re chastising humans for turning them into monsters. That’s the brilliant premise of “The Book of Dog,” a series of four comedic shorts, each one focusing on a particular dog breed — pugs (voiced by Fred Armisen), German shepherds (voiced by Lewis Black), Cavalier King Charles spaniels (voiced by Jeneane Garofalo), and bulldogs (voiced by Lucy Punch). Each comedian/dog provides a history lesson on their respective breed while sarcastically outlining humans’ “achievements” in breeding. You’ll never look at your pug the same way again...
Birdwatching ain’t boring or only for boomers. Avid birdwatcher Jason Ward redefines the hobby by engaging with audiences that might not normally partake in it: young people, people of color, and urban residents. In fact, much of the show is filmed in Ward’s hometown of New York City, where Central Park and Prospect Park are prime spots for catching rare birds, and Harlem’s Audubon Mural Project splashes the neighborhood in colorful murals of birds threatened by climate change. Besides observing the beautiful birds themselves, Ward talks bird tattoos, how brutal and metal birds can be, and chats with guest stars like comedian Wyatt Cenac, who asks an important question: “Do birds go people-ing?”
Can animals bring peace? At least for a moment? In Palestine, Arabian horses are considered to be powerful symbols of their culture. For some breeders, their job is an art form of utmost importance, while for others, these animals are like family. “Stallions of Palestine” follows a young horse breeder named Abdel Naser Musleh and his family as they raise these majestic creatures under the difficult circumstances of living in the West Bank, where they must cross checkpoints just to visit the vet. The documentary is a unique look inside the little-known world of Arabian horse breeding, but it offers another rare glimpse: Israelis and Palestinians putting their conflicts aside and uniting over their shared love at the annual Arabian horse shows in Israel, a true testament to the power of these creatures.
Did you know that fire salamanders eat their siblings? Or that anything that a duckling meets within the first 10 minutes of its life becomes its parent? This animated series teaches us facts about eight different animals that are a little bit sad, but fascinating nonetheless, through surprisingly poignant vignettes of human-like scenarios. Imagine a group of ducklings excitedly talking about their dads coming to career day and one of them brags that his dad is...a microwave. Or a cow sadly calling for her best friend, Trish. Yup, cows have best friends. So I guess these animal facts are sad — and relatable.
Perhaps the anti-”Air Bud,” “Buddy” is a moving documentary about service dogs and their owners, without any of the Hallmark sentiment. Filmmaker Heddy Honigmann carefully avoids the cliches that a man’s best friend story can easily fall prey to by giving a raw and unsugar-coated look at how humans come to rely on their service animals. But that’s not to say it’s without emotion. Witnessing all that these dogs do for their humans and hearing the owners describe their love for them, you will most definitely be brought to tears.
You think you’re an animal lover? You might question your commitment after meeting Tom and Debbie Nicholson. “Pickle” documents the vast array of pets that the couple have rescued over the course of their 25-year marriage, but we’re not talking cats, dogs, and bunnies. The bleeding-heart couple have a penchant for rescuing animals with medical conditions who need extra care, from a parapalegic possum to obese chickens to a fish who can’t swim (seriously, the Nicholsons had to prop him up with a sponge) — named Pickle. Why the name? “He was in a real pickle.” The documentary is a darkly humorous look at one couple’s capacity to love all creatures, despite the likelihood that they won’t be around for long.