August through December seems to be a time crammed with direct-to-DVD family movie releases, including many reel dogs in the pre-holiday season. This year, you can find new arrivals, sequels, mysteries, and holiday themes in some of the newest canine themed films on DVD. Highlight of the newest pack of reel dogs:
Basenji fans rejoice! For almost sixty years Basenjis have made only tiny film appearances. Not since that immortal part in Good-bye, My Lady (1956) has a Basenji landed a starring role. Until now: Trooper and the Legend of the Golden Key (2012) stars Foxy as "Dash" alongside leading canine sidekick, "Trooper" the Bloodhound, played by Daisey Mae. Reel kids:
Both boy-and-dog and girl-and-dog themes have new faces with "Fang" in Vampire Dog and "Shakey" in I Heart Shakey and their respective child co-stars. Reel sequels:
Follow the continuing adventures of Disney's famous Chihuahuas and Santa's little helpers in Beverley Hills Chihuahua 3 and Santa Paws 2: The Santa Pups.
Until more recent years, many reel dogs were displayed on their film posters by talented painters rather than photographers and Photoshop artists. Here are some highlights of canine movie poster art from the 1970s. (Links to all these films on DVD below.)
Before Cujo, before Beethoven, there was George! (1972). Artwork from the one-sheet poster.
The Daring Dobermans (1973) pioneered a new and still seldom used concept: the movie canine anti-hero. It spawned a trilogy following the exploits of Doberman Pinscher crime-specialists and is finally available on DVD after many years of being very hard to find.
Artistic interpretation of canine stars in Euro-Westerns were typically melodramatic, as demonstrated on the Italian three-sheet for Zanna bianca alla riscossa a.k.a. White Fang to the Rescue (1974).
Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976) was Paramount's spoof take on Rin-Tin-Tin's studio saving box office draw for Warner Bros. in the 1920s. Artwork from the half-sheet poster.
The family's Labrador Retriever stands ahead of his people on the Mountain Family Robinson (1979) poster.
C.H.O.M.P.S. (1979) isn't about a real dog at all, but a robotic security system. On this insert poser, the robo-dog can be seen smashing through a brick wall with a lit stick of dynamite in its mouth.
It opened the London Australian Film Festival in 2011, became the biggest box office hit of the year in Australia, and, at last, Red Dog has trotted into a theater near you. UK that is. Any plans to release Red Dog in the US or Canada are still forthcoming.
It may take a while to get there, but rest assured this dog's journey is worth the wait. While modern dog films wander more and more into the realm of cliché ridden, poorly written, silly children's stories without redeeming value, Red Dog makes tracks in the right direction to redeem his genre.
Red Dog is based on a novella by Louis de Bernières. The novella is, in turn, based on a legend which is based on a true story of a stray dog who brought a community together and became famous for trekking across Australia by himself.
This visually beautiful film of red dirt and burning landscapes chronicles the life of the legendary "Red Dog" of 1970s Western Australia. Red Dog is a stray Kelpie, friends to all, but bonded to none, who touches the lives of those he meets and roams constantly through the region, often by hitchhiking. One day, Red Dog finds his true master, a bus driver he chooses for himself, and settles in as a one-man dog.
When tragedy strikes and his human fails to return home one night, Red Dog waits to no avail. At last, he sets out on the quest that makes him famous; traveling hundreds of miles throughout Australia. What Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993) did for traveling dog scenes in the western United States and Lassie (2005) for Scotland, Red Dog does for Australia through red dirt, red sunsets, and a very lonely red dog jogging by.
A few moments of less than dazzling acting and some canine clichés that no dog movie seems able to live without are made up for by a surprisingly good screenplay, rich with unexpected humor. Koko, the Red Cloud Kelpie playing Red Dog, also puts in a believable performance enhanced by several impeccable closeups. As an added bonus, it is wonderful to see a new dog film that is not made just for children. There are not even any child characters in it. Red Dog would be appropriate for about 10 and up.
Koko landed the leading role in Red Dog by his close physical match to the real red dog and his highly expressive face. He came from an Australian show kennel to live with trainer Luke Hura in Melbourne, where they worked together for a year before filming. Koko learned sixty commands, including "head to the front" to keep him facing forward rather than turning to watch his trainer. At the end of filming, Koko was adopted by Red Dog producer Nelson Woss.