Common sense says there’s nothing funny about dead animals. Death is a terribly sad event, especially when it’s a pet that’s passed away, or a sacred species gunned down like a fish in a barrel. The latter event has been in the news of late, since Montana commenced its first licensed bison hunt in 15 years. The Buffalo Field Campaign, a volunteer-driven organization dedicated to the protection of Yellowstone’s wild buffalo, is protesting the event by documenting the hunt. The most visible aspect of the BFC’s campaign has been its posting of video clips on its website (www.buffalofieldcampaign.com), including a stationary buffalo being gunned down (“Bison was shot while lying down!”) and the hunt’s first kill (“It took four bullets and 30 minutes to kill the buffalo.”). It’s a graphic presentation that speaks directly to BFC’s assertion that the hunt is cruel and unjust.
Hollywood has often used animal death to dramatic purpose, usually in similarly emotional and heavy-handed fashion. But for every Old Yeller, it seems, there’s also a Dinkie. Not sure what that means? Read on, as we honor the BFC’s efforts with a selective review of animal death on film:
A hunter—never actually shown on camera—shoots the main character’s mother; children everywhere wonder, What the hell? Mr. Disney himself was unapologetic about the story line, preferring not to shield children from the realities of death, even in sticky-sweet animated films.
Old Yeller (1957)
It doesn’t matter how old you are, it always gets a little dusty in the room when Travis is forced to put his best friend down at the end of this film. Old Yeller is a fearless, fiercely loyal mutt who protects the Coates family from all evils, but, in the end, contracts rabies from a big, bad wolf. The fact that 14-year-old Travis is saddled with the film-ending deed is especially painful. Let’s move on before Disney kills again.
Rancho Deluxe (1975)
Shot in Livingston, this quirky Montana-based comedy includes Jeff Bridges and Sam Waterston shooting cattle for sport…and rent money. In fact, the opening scene is eerily reminiscent of the BFC videos, except, incredibly, it looks pretty funny here because the downed cow is not a rare breed, but rather one of 2,000 steers owned by a big-time rancher/prick. The fact that Bridges convinces his landlady to take pieces of beef in lieu of rent is gravy, er, A-1 sauce.
National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)
Poor Dinkie. Aunt Edna’s dog, who has a propensity to pee on picnic baskets, gets dragged through the better part of Nevada when Clark Griswald (Chevy Chase) forgets he tied the dog’s leash to his back bumper. It’s funny—really, it is—especially when Edna spends the rest of the film calling Clark a “dog killer.”
A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
Not a good movie for pets. In fact, something of a bloodbath. Otto (Kevin Klein) eats half a dozen pet fish while badgering PETA-style radical Ken (Michael Palin). Then, while Ken is trying to off an elderly lady, he tragically flattens the old broad’s dog by dropping a safe from three stories up. Sad, except it leads to the darkly humorous funeral where choirboys sing, “Miserere Dominus, miserere Dominus, Canis mortuus est.” Translation: “Have mercy, Lord; have mercy, Lord; the dog is dead.”
Pet Sematary (1989)
Winston “Church” Churchill, the family cat, bites it on the busy street outside the Creed’s home—or does he? While the movie’s named after the cemetery located just behind the family house, it’s the American Indian burial ground a few miles further away that brings the dead back to life. So, you know, this one has a happy ending. Sort of.
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
George “Babyface” Nelson (Michael Badalucco) goes postal on a cow in a scene loosely reminiscent (as is the whole movie) of Homer’s Odyssey. The American Humane Association didn’t like the on-screen killing and protested what they believed was a real shooting. Only after a private demonstration of the computer-generated graphics did the group relent. The DVD credits include the disclaimer, “Scenes that appear to have harmed animals were simulated.” Unfortunately, the BFC’s real-life videos can’t include such reassuring language.