When Cuteness Attacks: Scene-Stealing Movie Animals
Although he never protested that he was young and he needed the money, one of the earliest animal stars, Rin Tin Tin, started out his acting career playing wolves. His movies eventually became so popular that he is credited with saving Warner Brothers, and he eventually earned his own paw print on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Before American moviegoers fell in love with Rin Tin Tin, Charlie Chaplin produced A Dog's Life (1918), in which Charlie rescues a stray who's being attacked by a pack of tough dogs. Scraps, an endearing terrier mix, is Chaplin's companion in poverty, unemployment, and eventually romance and a new start (see all 34 minutes in the video below). Chaplin recruited Scraps from a shelter, and kept him after the movie, where he was a favorite at the studio.
Nearly 100 years later, another terrier, Uggie, stole the show in The Artist, a modern-day silent film that won 5 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Although the feisty Jack Russell (he was rejected by two families before being adopted by animal trainer Omar Van Muller) didn't get an Oscar, he did receive the canine equivalent by winning the Palm Dog Award as well as the Golden Collar Award for his portrayal of Jack in the 2011 movie.
Uggie had stiff competition for the Golden Collar from Blackie, Sacha Baron Cohen's Doberman Pinscher sidekick in Hugo (2012), but only because director Martin Scorsese lobbied for his nomination by instigating a successful write-in campaign. "OK, let's lay all our cards on the table. Jack Russell terriers are small and cute. Dobermans are enormous and — handsome,” Scorcese wrote of his concern that Blackie was the victim of breed prejudice, not to mention typecasting.
Another canine co-star was Toby the beagle in Used Cars (1980) with Kurt Russell and Jack Warden. As the shop dog, he earned his keep by conning customers and closing deals in a dramatic way. He also helped with car repairs: "Toby, get me a Phillips screwdriver," and "No, Toby, I said a Phillips!"
Credit is due to non-canines as well. Examples of cats (who are method actors) include Mr. Jinx, Robert De Niro's beloved Himalayan in Meet the Parents (2000) and the tiny kitten who was used as an ink blotter by Peter Sellers in The Wrong Box (1966). Playing themselves, two handfuls of garter snakes were rescued from a burning pet shop by a squeamish Paul Reubens in Pee-Wee's Big Adventure (1985), after which he fainted. And, although technically human, the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz (1939) have traumatized generations of children who don't have any idea what they are.