Published: Thursday, January 31, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 25, 2013 at 1:45 p.m.
He's excited to see you, even if you've only been gone a few minutes.
He'll never give you a look that says, “Do you really need to be eating that doughnut right now?” But if you want to exercise, he'll jump at the chance to go for a walk and set a pace that rivals any personal trainer.
The pets in our lives give us something you can't put a price on: unconditional love.
These 10 films celebrate these extra members of our families — the pets that are always on our side, and by our side, in the good times and the bad.
“Because of Winn-Dixie” (2005) — Ten-year-old Opal (AnnaSophia Robb), the daughter of a preacher (Jeff Daniels), is filled with questions about why her mother left, and her father is haunted by the answers. In a new town, Opal's loneliness begins to lift as soon as she meets a wily dog in a Winn-Dixie and names him after the store. Winn-Dixie helps Opal change the lives of everyone they meet: a librarian, a blind woman (Cicely Tyson), a musician (Dave Mattthews), her father, and, ultimately, herself.
“My Dog Skip” (2000) — When Skip bounds into the life of 9-year-old Willie (Frankie Muniz), the intuitive terrier helps the quiet boy make friends, chat up a pretty girl, try his hand at baseball and understand a disillusioned young veteran (Luke Wilson). Skip and Willie are like brothers; the only thing separating them is the penchant of one of them to drink out of the toilet. Your first dog is always special, and Skip reminds us just why that is so.
“That Darn Cat” (1965) — When D.C., a sticky-pawed cat on the prowl for food, finds his way into an apartment where two robbers are holed up, the bank teller they've kidnapped places her watch around his neck with part of the word “help” scratched on the back. When Patti (Hayley Mills), D.C.'s owner, sees the watch, she gets the FBI to tail her cat on his nightly jaunts to find the kidnap victim. Yeah, that could happen. This goofy Disney classic may be a silly yarn, but it's an entertaining one.
“The Three Lives of Thomasina” (1964) — Growing up without a mother, young Mary (Karen Dotrice) pours all of her love into her beloved cat Thomasina. When the girl's veterinarian father promises to save Thomasina after an accident but is unable to do so, Mary is bereft. But that is just the first life of the regal Thomasina. Perhaps their paths will cross again in another one.
A HORSE OF COURSE
“Black Stallion” (1979) — Traveling on a ship with his father, young Alec (Kelly Reno) is mesmerized by a wild stallion on board. When a storm strikes, Alec and the horse both go into the water and end up on a deserted island. The scenes where Alec gains the stallion's trust while learning to survive on the island equal the breathtaking solitude of “Castaway.” After being rescued, Alec decides to race his hooved best friend with the help of old trainer Henry (Mickey Rooney). But this isn't really a racing movie. It's a quietly beautiful film about a deep connection that goes beyond words.
WHO SAYS DOGS HATE CATS?
“Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey” (1993) — Seasoned pooch Shadow (voiced by Don Ameche), rambunctious pup Chance (voiced by Michael J. Fox) and primadonna feline Sassy (voiced by Sally Field) fear they have been left for good when their family temporarily drops them off at a farm. Together they embark on a long and perilous trek through the wilderness to reunite with their loved ones. Whoever said you can't go home again obviously never met this terrific trio.
DON'T FORGET THE KLEENEX
“Old Yeller” (1957) — Was there ever a more useful dog than Old Yeller? (Or a sadder movie for dog lovers?) Want a fish? No need for a pole, he'll catch you one. Got a bear problem? He'll handle it. Need help keeping raccoons away from the corn? He's your dog. Young Travis (Tommy Kirk), tasked with keeping the family ranch going while his father is away, is not a fan of the rascally pooch at first. But as he grows to love Old Yeller, he learns a lot from him, including the lesson that becoming a man means doing difficult things.
“Marley & Me” (2008) — Marley is one part dog, one part demolition derby. No leash, no screen door, no dog trainer is his match. But when Marley isn't driving his owners, John (Owen Wilson) and Jenny (Jennifer Aniston) to the brink of barking at the moon themselves, he's wrapping himself tightly around their hearts.
THIS LITTLE PIGGY ...
“Babe” (1995) — When Farmer Hoggett (James Cromwell) wins adorable piglet Babe in a contest, he has visions of a future holiday meal dancing in his head. What he gets instead is a sheepdog in pig's clothing. On the farm, Babe becomes an extra “pup” for the mothering sheepdog Fly, a cohort of Ferdinand the duck, a friend to the sheep and an enemy of one diabolical cat. Through his unique ability to herd sheep, Babe earns the respect and affection of the farmer. “That'll do pig,” indeed.
A HOUSE MOUSE
“Stuart Little” (1999) — When the Littles decide to adopt, they think small ... and furry when they bring home a mouse named Stuart (voiced by Michael J. Fox). Their young son, George, (Jonathan Lipnicki) is none too pleased with the selection, and their miffed house cat Snowbell (voiced by Nathan Lane) is thinking along the lines of dissection. But Stuart Little is up to the tall task of finding his fairy tale ending with a true family.