As long as we’ve had films, we’ve had stories about dogs. Whether they have the lead or a supporting role, they often make for an interesting character and always an interesting dynamic. Dogs have a tendency to steal the show or at least become the more memorable detail in the eyes of the audience; think Toto in “The Wizard of Oz” or even Verdell in “As Good as It Gets.” Even in films where they don’t talk, they utilize the basics of filmmaking: communication through action and reaction. In films where they do, they take on such human qualities and personalities that it’s often difficult to distinguish them from their human counterparts.
With news that the Australian hit “Red Dog,” based on the novel by Louis de Bernières, will be making its American release this November, we thought about some of our favorite book-to-movie adaptations about dogs. Take a look at our list and weigh in on the ones we picked and the ones we missed.
“Lassie Come Home” (1943)
You know a film is pretty good when the dog’s name becomes the nickname for the breed. Lassie is more than a story; it’s a brand that, unfortunately, has been milked for all it’s worth. The number of sequels and remakes is hard to keep track of but that doesn’t take away from the story and the success of the original film. In a moving story of man’s best friend, Lassie is sold to help a struggling family only to embark on an adventure back to his home. The original film was adapted from the novel Lassie Come-Home by Eric Knight. The trailer is featured first in the playlist below.
“Lady and the Tramp” (1955)
This Disney classic would be hard to leave off pretty much any list regarding movies and dogs. The story is a classic one of an uptown pampered pooch who befriends a downtown street-smart mutt. Even those who haven’t seen this film will still recognize the memorable spaghetti kiss. This film was adapted from a short story titled Happy Dan, The Whistling Dog by Ward Greene.
“Old Yeller” (1957)
Another classic. This story comes from Fred Gibson’s novel, which is actually part of a series, though Savage Sam and Little Arliss never caught on in the same fashion. Old Yeller is the ultimate tale of man’s best friend, centering around a dog who becomes part of the family. The story is known best, however, for [SPOILER ALERT!] the climax in which the young boy is forced to shoot his dog after it contracts rabies [SPOILER ALERT!].
“One Hundred and One Dalmatians” (1961)
The original Disney animation is by far the best film version of this story. Although the live-action version from 1996 gave us Glenn Close as a wicked Cruella de Vil, nothing could match the charm of the original. The story was adapted from the children’s novel The One Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith.
“The Fox and the Hound” (1981)
Here we have another Disney animated classic, only this one’s a little darker. The story is based on the novel The Fox and the Hound by Daniel P. Mannix. Other than the character names and the title, the film took many liberties when it came to adapting this story. Although the novel is considered young-adult, the subject matter is dark and the ending in particular is a painful reality. Disney made some meaningful changes to make the story more family friendly such as making the fox and the hound childhood friends instead of enemies.
Phyllis Reynolds Naylor won the Newbery Medal in 1992 for Shiloh, a young adult novel about a boy who befriends an abused beagle. The novel is actually part of a trilogy and all three books have had subsequent film versions. Although the film did not experience any real box office success, the novel has become a staple for required school reading thus giving the film, and the series in general, a second life.
“My Dog Skip” (2000)
This film is perhaps best known for the kicking off the emergence of young actor Frankie Muniz, whose hit TV show, “Malcolm in the Middle,” premiered around the same time as the film’s release. The story comes from the memoir of the same title by Willie Morris. In a classic tale of man’s best friend, My Dog Skip is a story about a boy and dog that grow up together. Morris wrote another memoir, My Cat Spit McGee, but that story never drew as much attention.
“Marley and Me” (2008)
John Grogan’s memoir, Marley and Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog, spent some serious time on the New York Times bestseller list when it was published in 2006. The book chronicles the life of the Grogan family and their yellow lab, Marley. The film feels rushed as it tries to cram the entire lifespan of the dog into an hour and a half but some of the individual moments are really powerful, particularly for any dog owner.