We’ve all encountered at least one movie with a pet death that made us cry. Hachiko’s probably right up there on that list! While some animal deaths in film — like Nemo’s mom’s death in Finding Nemo — point to nothing more than nature and the food chain, others allude to something greater.
The following are a few notable animal deaths in movies, corresponding to specific real-life problems.
Old yeller in Old Yeller
Old Yeller is a 1957 film produced by Walt Disney Studios. Based on the 1956 novel by Fred Gibson, Old Yeller paints a picture of post-American Civil War Texas in the 1860s. The film follows a yellow Labrador mix named Old Yeller who finds his way into the hearts of the Coates family in the countryside. While Old Yeller proves his worth — saving one of the Coates sons, Travis, several times — he is eventually infected by a wolf with rabies, and has to be shot by Travis by the end of the film.
Real-life issue: Rabies
Rabies is a virus that can affect the nervous system of animals and is often transmitted through bite wounds. The disease is discussed several times in Old Yeller, and is regarded as a growing plague in their community. At the time, it would have been necessary to kill Old Yeller because a rabid animal could infect an entire farm.
Since the creation of the first rabies vaccine in 1885, humans could have themselves and their animal companions vaccinated as a preventive measure. While humans can acquire rabies vaccines before and after infection, animals often pass away once infected by rabies. According to the World Health Organization, the Philippines is one of the top ten countries with a rabies problem.
Bambi’s mother is Bambi
Bambi is a 1942 animated film produced by Walt Disney Studios. Based on the 1923 Austrian novel by Felix Salten, the film follows the growth of a mule deer named Bambi, whose father is the Great Prince of the Forest. His mother, an unnamed deer, is eventually shot by a hunter.
Hunters, in Bambi, are feared by the animals and are called only one name: ‘Man’. Man makes several appearances during the film, the last of which was when Bambi finds Man’s hunting dogs threatening the doe Faline at Man’s hunting camp.
Real-life issue: Hunting
According to Hun Austria’s website, there are reportedly at least 130,000 hunters in Austria, making it one of the most hunting-friendly countries in Europe. In 2017, more than 15 million hunters participated in the sport in America, reported the Statista website.
In the same year, a study by Chinese Academy of Sciences graduate student Krizler C. Tanalgo suggested that Philippine indigenous communities’ hunting practices “should be monitored and provide alternative livelihood options to reduce threats.”
Every continent has a history of hunting. Bambi compels viewers, both young and old, to find fault in Man’s ways, and root for non-human animals.
De Niro in Bullet Head
Bullet Head is an American-Bulgarian thriller released in 2017, starring household names like Antonio Banderas, John Malkovich, and Adrien Brody. The three play career criminals trapped in a warehouse after a robbery. They soon realize that the warehouse is the base of a dogfighting ring, with one intelligent Canary Mastiff named ‘De Niro’ leaving them fearing for their lives. After Brody’s character, Stacy, saves De Niro from being crushed by a grand piano, De Niro saves Stacy’s life by sacrificing his own.
Real-life issue: Dogfighting
The film features flashbacks from each of the main characters’ lives, but none as heartbreaking as De Niro’s. Dogs used for dogfights are often bred to be fighters — with their biological parents having been in the ring as well. They are left isolated, unsocialized, and injected with anabolic steroids or given narcotic drugs to increase their aggression. Dogs that are found to be losers in the ring, being deemed useless, are then abandoned or killed.
Tens of thousands of Americans reportedly participate in dogfighting, as reported by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. In 2012, more than 260 pit bulls and mixed-breed dogs were saved from a dogfighting arena in the Philippine city of San Pablo. Twenty of the pit bulls had to be euthanized, while others were sick or injured, with ripped ears and tongues, based on a 2012 news article published by Rappler. As of 2017, 88 of these Laguna pit bulls remained under the care of Compassion and Responsibility for Animals (CARA), just waiting to be adopted, as seen on Help Save the Pit Bulls website.
The lab dog in Hollow Man
Unnamed, the dog killed in Hollow Man lives a life millions of unnamed animals also live every year. A great number of companies claim to test on animals humanely, for the sake of cosmetics, chemicals, food, and drugs.
While the suffering of test subjects can be minimized in the lab, many researchers believe that their pain should not be minimized if their relief is expected to negatively affect the research, said Ian Murnaghan in a 2018 article for About Animal Testing.
The cons of animal testing have slowly found its way into the Philippine public’s consciousness, with the popular, international cosmetics company The Body Shop launching their #ForeverAgainstAnimalTesting campaign in the Philippines in 2017, based on a Manila Standard Lifestyle article.
Real-life issue: Animal testing
Hollow Man, a 2000 sci-fi horror film, plays with the concept of invisibility, as Kevin Bacon’s character, Sebastian, tests an invisibility serum on himself and animals. Sebastian and his team of scientists test the serum on a female gorilla and a dog. All the while, cages in the laboratory house other test subjects, including cats, dogs, guinea pigs, orangutans, and chimpanzees. To prepare himself for even worse tasks, Sebastian decides to kill his fellow test subject by smashing the terrier’s head in — all being caught and depicted on the laboratory’s thermal camera.
Marley in Marley & Me
Marley & Me, the 2008 American comedy film based on the memoir by John Grogan, follows the life of yellow Labrador Marley with the Grogan family. The movie touches on sensitive topics, such as post-partum depression and miscarriage, with the pain coming from both issues being slightly alleviated by the presence of Marley as part of the family. Three children later, the Grogans learn that Marley is suffering from a “stomach twist” or gastric dilatation volvolus (GDV). They then decide to humanely euthanize their beloved Marley.
Real-life issue: Euthanasia
John and Jenny Grogan have Marley euthanized at the vet’s, believing that is the kindest thing they can do for their ailing fur baby. Euthanasia, when done properly (and not through a gunshot or tambucho), is “painless, quick, and dignified”, according to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. After pleas from local animal welfare orgs, the section of the Philippines’ Animal Welfare Act allowing tambucho-killing, or killing through the exhaust pipe gassing system, was deleted in 2011, according to The Philippine Animal Society (PAWS).
This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s May issue.