Credit: Bharathi Kannan via Unsplash

Canines on camera

By Ciara McAlinden

Views Editor Ciara champions the power of puppy presence in film and TV. 

As someone who still, unironically, uses the word “pupper”, it may come as no surprise to you, reader, that I am obsessed with dogs. In my own humble opinion, every film starring a dog, whether they’re 2D, CGI, or just very talented actors, deserves at least a seven-star rating on IMDb. It matters not whether a film is absolutely shite; the presence of a dog elevates it immediately. It is largely underestimated the power that pooches have on film, whether advancing the plot in the lead role or simply aloof in their woof, being pulled along by a lead.

“It matters not whether a film is absolutely shite; the presence of a dog elevates it immediately.”

Our love for dogs on the screen is often cultivated from very early on in our lives, with a helping hand from Disney – Lady and the Tramp, The Fox and the Hound, and of course 101 Dalmatians were regularly played in my home growing up. Talking dogs, it seems, kept me engaged in a story when boring old humans just didn’t cut it. As well as being a lovable sight to keep kids engaged in a story for a whole 90 minutes, these onscreen pups provided an early introduction to complex relationships in film. A movie about a working-class man who sweeps a prim and proper woman off her feet to show her the joys of living adventurously, to the point that they both wind up in jail for her to find out about his 20 other girlfriends, is perhaps not the easiest and most engaging watch for a four-year-old who just wants to play with toy cars all day. But take that same narrative and make it about dogs? Well there you have Lady and the Tramp: a beloved film for all generations! Disney really knows how to tug at your heartstrings with a story about talking dogs, but maybe only when they’re cartoons – I don’t think I can bring myself to write about the uncanny anthropomorphic, sleep paralysis demon canine that is Tim Allen’s Shaggy Dog.

“…these onscreen pups provided an early introduction to complex relationships in film…”

As we mature, unfortunately we can no longer just watch dogs talking to each other in films. I know, it’s hard for me too; when you become a teenager you have to pretend that it’s more fun to watch big fancy actors do their thing. But fear not! There are still dogs in these films, they just die more regularly. My love for Keanu Reeves is undeniable, but I’m afraid I can’t watch John Wick a second time, as it only reminds me that dogs are mortal; John Wick’s entire vengeful rampage is triggered by the death of his dog though, which is honestly understandable. My love for Will Smith is also undeniable, but much like John Wick, I Am Legend made me cry for three hours at the age of 13, so I think I’ll give a rewatch a miss. Both of these films, however heartbreaking, irrefutably portray the love and bond between a person and their best fluffy friend, and solidifies an idea that dogs aren’t just animals, they’re part of the family.

Until this point, dogs have provided an insight into unconditional love and family relationships, but they can also act as a bridge between human characters and their audience. In the realms of horror, dogs know exactly what’s going on before anyone on the character list does. Whenever I stick on a horror film and a dog is introduced, my only thought for the rest of the film is “he better not die”, because in all honesty, people in horror films are stupid, and they will stay in the haunted house until the malevolent spirit kills their dog. The moment a dog begins to whine and cower in a horror film, the audience knows that something is going to happen – the audacity of the onscreen dog-owners asking their dog “what’s wrong buddy?”, like dude the devil is in your basement, please listen to your bichon frise.

From the beginning of our cinematic experiences to the end, dogs will always be there, whether they’re driving the plot like in the Scooby Doo franchise, or just to act as lovable companions … again, like the Scooby Doo franchise. Their objective cuteness can become a major turning point in a film, like in Kingsman, and harm to them can motivate a protagonist’s mission. Whether they have a purpose or not, they’re always welcome on my screen.


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