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Most people like animals, and that means that animal films are always popular.  It is estimated that six out of ten families in the United States have pets.

An animal film is a film that features an animal or animals in a large role in the story.  If the animal is portrayed as a pet, the film centers on the actions and adventures of the animal, interacting with its owner.  If the animal featured is a wild animal the plot involves how humans and animals interact, either in captivity or in nature.

Animals in film are often represented with human-like emotions and abilities, and in some cases even as ‘superhuman’.  Films have been made casting the animal in the role of hero and in other films as the villain.

People in animal films rely on their animal for companionship and loyalty, and often the pet is their greatest ally, warning them of danger, putting themselves between their humans and harm, taking action to save their humans, and providing unconditional love.

Animals are also the subject of many documentaries and are included in many animated films, which are separate genres.  Throughout the decades of filmmaking, dogs and horses have been the most popular animal stars, but many other types of animals have been featured in film as well.

An early animal film, "The Fighting Stallion" (1926) was directed by Ben F. Wilson and starred Yakima Canutt.  The story is about a ranch where horses have been being rustled and the owner believes they are being drawn away by a wild stallion, when in reality the rustling is being done by the ranch’s foreman.  Together Yak and the stallion clear the stallion’s reputation and save the day.

In the early days of filmmaking serials were quite popular, and "The Lone Defender" (1930) was a twelve-chapter serial starring the beloved Rin Tin Tin.  When a prospector is killed Rin Tin Tin protects his daughter from the villain and his gang.  They’d love to get rid of Rin Tin Tin, but he’s the only one who knows the way to the dead man’s claim.

Another early serial, "The Adventures of Rex and Rinty" (1935), starred two animals working as a team – Rex the King of the Wild Horses and Rin Tin Tin.  The film was directed by Ford Beebe and B. Reeves Eason and is about Rex, an Arabian stallion in eastern Africa who is worshipped as a god-horse.  The magnificent stallion is stolen and then sold to an American polo player, but Rex refuses to cooperate and escapes.  Running away, Rex encounters Rinty and the two of them evade capture by Crawford and his thugs.

In another film directed by Ford Beebe, "My Dog Shep" (1946), an orphan boy on his way to live with his uncle picks up a stray dog, and the two become fast friends.  However, the uncle doesn’t want the dog, and when chickens are found dead, the uncle accuses the dog of killing them.  The boy decides it’s time he and the dog hit the road so they run away, to meet up with an elderly man who has also run away from a home where he believed he wasn’t wanted either.

"My Pal Trigger" (1946) was directed by Frank McDonald, and stars Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, George 'Gabby' Hayes and, of course, Trigger.  Roy wants to breed his horse with Golden Sovereign, but its owner, Gabby, refuses.  When both their horses escape, a man named Scoville shoots Golden Sovereign by mistake, but it’s Roy who is jailed for the crime.  Months later Roy returns with Golden Sovereign’s son Trigger, and discovers that Scoville was there when the horse was shot.  Now it’s time for Roy to clear his name once and for all.

Another animal film, "Behave Yourself!" (1951), was directed by George Beck and stars Shelley Winters, Farley Granger, Lon Chaney Jr., William Demarest and Elisha Cook Jr.  The film is about an adorable little Welsh terrier with dangerous ties.  When William 'Bill' Denny is followed home by a little dog one day, he is totally oblivious to the danger and mayhem he has let himself in for.  The dog is oddly wanted by the mob, which are in turn wanted by the police.  Add a skeptical but interfering mother-in-law, and you have plot in which poor Bill fumbling around in, trying, comically, to figure out what is going on, while getting the dog to ‘Behave Yourself’.

Based on Jack London’s story Call of the Wild, "The Great Adventure" (1975) starred Jack Palance and Joan Collins and was directed by Paul Elliots.  A young boy and his dog fight a continual battle for survival as they travel through the rugged Yukon Territory during the days of the Great Gold Rush.

Chill Wills starred in "Poco: Little Dog Lost" (1977), a film directed by Dwight Brooks.  The movie is about Poco’s adventures when Poco and Kim are separated following a car accident.  Poco’s relentless search takes him through the desert.  Bravely facing the odds, Poco encounters many dangers, and makes some new friends.

Animals films are full of adventure, comedy and are just plain feel good movies.  Browse Matinee Classics and select hours of fun entertainment to enjoy as you get to know some of the animal stars of the past.

"Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn't matter if you are a lion or gazelle; when the sun comes up, you'd better be running" 

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