Cinema has been fascinated with the relationship between human and canine since we first learned how to make them sit in front of a camera: an unspoken, treasured connection that repeatedly hits us where we live.
The latest in the dog movie canon stars the ever-dependable Channing Tatum, and is less bare-boned than its title might suggest. Like all five of these shaggy stories, Dog makes it clear that, while the only words they can muster are “bark” and “woof”, dogs are often the teachers of some of life’s great lessons. Here are five of their most educational movie moments.
1. Dogs can teach us how to play competitive sports (Air Bud)
In 1997, we as a society were asked, “what if a Golden Retriever could play basketball?” To which we understandably responded, “this film is worthy of 13 feature-length sequels.” Or if we didn’t explicitly say that, we must have given off that vibe, cos the Air Bud saga is 14 films long.
Maybe this is because they never really engage with the seismic ways the sporting world could be shifted—nay, improved—by the inclusion of dog athletes. By the fourth film—Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch—the sport at hand is baseball. There’s a training montage where Buddy the dog (who is good at all possible sports) takes it upon himself to coach a young girl, and it is as delightfully bizarre and hysterical as you might imagine.
2. Dogs can help us fly to the moon (Wallace & Gromit)
Rendered beautifully by the claymation masters at Aardman Studios, the always-silent Gromit does a lot of eye-rolling at owner Wallace’s mishaps. And while he can sometimes feel under-appreciated, it’s genuinely affecting seeing the bottomless affection and loyalty he has to his owner, often going out on a limb to preserve his well-being.
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Did Wallace teach him everything he knows? If not, who gave this dog an engineering degree? Regardless, their adventures are most fun when they’re working together on a project and celebrating their inventiveness with a nice mug of tea. We’re introduced to them in 1989’s A Grand Day Out, wherein they decide to build a rocket to sample the cheese native to the moon. It’s a joy to see, and results in the oddest picnic anyone’s ever had.
3. Dogs can help us solve murder (Turner & Hooch)
Police dogs have long been used by law enforcement to follow scents, guard valuables, and hunt down outlaws. The question Turner & Hooch proposes is, can a dog solve a murder? Well, no: the slobbering Dogue De Bordeaux who finds himself in the care of the immaculate, tightly-wound detective Turner is not very good at police work.
It’s undeniable, however, that Hooch taught Turner that we can’t get the job done solely by the book—sometimes we need the help of a more rough-around-the-edges enforcer to see victory. And sure, Hooch’s detective skills require him to witness a murder and then find a suspicious man to bark at, and sure, the script has five writers and none of them were able to imprint a hint of personality onto the film. But that massive disgusting dog sure did open his owner’s eyes to the powers of teamwork in solving terrible crimes.
4. Dogs can help us commit murder (John Wick)
Of course, you could always open your owner’s eyes to the power of committing terrible crimes, as happens in John Wick. When Keanu Reeves’ pup is slaughtered during a home invasion, it’s enough to remind him that he was very good at murdering people. If those mean gangsters can’t appreciate the love that John’s dog reignited in his cold killer heart, then he’s about to teach them a very painful lesson.
And if you’re not satisfied with dogs causing murder indirectly, just wait for John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum, in which John seeks shelter with Sofia (Halle Berry). Her weapons include two faithful Belgian Malinois hounds, who sic necks, limbs, and other important body parts on command. Is such a relationship ethical? Should we be training witless dogs into brutal murder? Does it look cool when they make synchronised leaps at people’s throats? It’s up to you to answer all of the above.
5. Dogs can help us through our pain…to an extent (Dog)
Jackson Briggs (Channing Tatum) is a veteran who, due to a medically recognised brain injury, can’t return to active service. That is, unless he transports the uncontrollable, PTSD-afflicted army hound Lulu to his late friend’s funeral across the country. At one point he pretends to be a blind soldier to score a fancy hotel room for free…until his “guide dog” breaks away and attacks a Muslim doctor at the hotel, landing Jackson in jail for fraud and an alleged hate crime.
Wild moments like these stand out because, on the whole, Dog is fairly compelling: ostensibly a film about an animal teaching a man to accept his disability instead of denying the hold it has over him. Star and co-director Tatum brings Jackson to life in a tangible, engaging way—not to mention the visible, endearing connection between him and Lulu.