They may not have been paid as handsomely as their fellow actors or lived anywhere near as long, but dogs from Lassie to Toto to Lady and the Tramp have long had a habit of winning the hearts of film audiences all over the world. Now, at last, the great and the |good of the canine acting world have a monument to rival Hollywood’s star-lined boulevards, albeit in a somewhat less glitzy destination.
Yesterday, the Kennel Club unveiled the world’s first permanent “Dog Walk of Fame” in Battersea Park, where legendary canines from the silver screen will be immortalised with a boulevard star and park bench bearing their names.
Of the 15 dogs nominated to join the inaugural year, six made it on to the boardwalk. Together, their careers span more 70 years of cinema history. Strolling through Battersea Park, dog lovers will be able to see the names of some of the world’s most iconic celluloid stars. Toto, Dorothy’s faithful companion in The Wizard of Oz, will be there alongside Lassie, Bill Sykes’s hapless terrier Bullseye from Oliver! , Wallace’s techno-savvy friend Gromit and the endurance specialists Chance and Shadow of Disney’s Homeward Bound.
Like all good award ceremonies there was a healthy dose of last-minute upsets as seemingly dead certs failed to make the final grade.
Tintin’s companion Snowy, the tennis-shoe loving Hooch of Turner and Hooch fame and the canine world’s most fertile couple Pongo and Perdita of 101 Dalmatians were all nominated for the honour but will have to wait before their paws tread the walk of fame.
Lassie: Lassie come home
The first Lassie film was a product of wartime: its child stars – Roddy McDowall and Elizabeth Taylor – were English evacuees in Hollywood, and the wise, faithful collie, who won’t let hundreds of miles of countryside keep her away from her teenage master, was at least in part a father-substitute for those millions of children whose dads were off fighting the Second World War. No bonus points for knowing that Lassie was, off-screen, a laddie. Star rating: three
Bullseye: Oliver Twist
Bill Sykes’s English bull terrier is one of the most intriguing dogs in film: a mean, vicious animal, he is an integral part of the burglar’s menace. But when Sykes bludgeons Nancy to death, the violence is too much for the hound, who scrabbles at the door to escape. Afterwards, an angry mob follows Bullseye as he seeks out his master – but is the dog a willing agent of justice, or is this just misplaced loyalty? Star rating: four
Pongo and Perdita: 101 Dalmatians
The usual doggy virtues – super-loyal, super-intelligent, super-brave – are combined with outstanding parenting; in any creature who didn’t have such appealing spots, such virtue would be boring. In the cartoon, the dogs refer to human owners as “pets”; the 1996 film cuts the anthropomorphism, but shows |a less acute understanding of how the relationship works. Star rating: three
Rexx: Firehouse dog
Rexx is an Irish terrier who is not only a film star but a fire-extinguishing, criminal-catching, tearaway-reforming, job-saving hero, who makes Lassie look like a slacker. Nothing like the Irish terriers I know, who are prone to do things like eat the family doormat. Star rating: one
Jerry Lee: k-99
The central gag is that Jerry Lee, the drug-sniffing dog, is smarter than his master; the fact that his master is Jim Belushi kind of muffles the joke’s impact. Koton, the German shepherd who played Jerry Lee, was a real police dog: two years after the film was released, he was shot and killed in the course of duty. Star rating: two
Tintin’s wire fox terrier - aka Milou - is perhaps the most |authentically doggy dog in popular culture: so devoted to Tintin that it is perhaps more helpful to think of them as two halves of a single personality. He also has a likeable weakness for strong liquor. Star rating: four
Gromit: Wallace & Gromit
The traditional canine virtues of loyalty, courage and intelligence are taken to extremes with Aardman Animation’s long-suffering, cheesehound. There are rumours he’s a beagle but his breed is unclear. His relationship with Wallace is more like that of parent to frustratingly stupid child. Star rating: four
Fang: Harry Potter
Among the many pets belonging to Hagrid, the Hogwarts gamekeeper and Care of Magical Animals master, Fang is unusual in being non-magical and, |despite his great size, harmless: Hagrid introduces him as “a bloody coward”. He is, however, considered sufficient protection for Harry and friends on their expedition into the terrifying Forbidden Forest. In the books, Fang is described, a little vaguely, as a “boarhound”; in the films, he is played by a Neapolitan mastiff, a very baggy dog. Star rating: three
Frank: Men in Black
In the first Men In Black film, Frank the Pug has one decent gag when it turns out that he, and not his peculiar looking owner, is really an alien in disguise (“You don’t like it,” snaps Frank, “you can kiss my furry butt”). For the sequel, MiB II, however, Frank is promoted to regular comic relief and very quickly outstays his welcome; the moment when he dons an official Men in Black suit being an icky-cutesy low point. Star rating: two
Beethoven: Beethoven and sequels
The plot, which spawned many sequels, involves a fake vet who wants to experiment on Beethoven: audiences were meant to think it was a bad thing. Unfortunately, the comic limitations of St Bernards – already extensively explored by Bernie Winters and his dog Schnorbitz – were demonstrated once more. Star rating: one
Chance & Shadow: Homeward Bound
Along with Sassy the cat, they set off to find their owners, journeying thousands of miles across the American wilderness. Heart-warming testimony to canine loyalty, or a warning that just leaving them by the side of the road won’t do the job? Star rating: three
Bobby: Greyfriars Bobby
Another mythic trope – the dog who won’t abandon his dead master – but here apparently taken from life: Bobby was a Skye terrier who, from 1858 onwards, was said to have spent a 14-year vigil at his master’s grave in Edinburgh. After an outing disguised as a collie – in Challenge for Lassie – he got his own name on the title in 1961, a more than usually tasteful Disney vehicle. Star rating: four
Lady and the Tramp: Lady & The Tramp
The old, old story – upper-class dame falls for streetwise bit of rough, and tames his hobo ways. But since these are dogs, maybe we should look at it differently: overbred Lady imports a bit of mongrel vigour? NB: In real life, dogs should not be fed pasta, and even if they are, they won’t do that cute, nose-to-nose thing with a piece of spaghetti. Star rating: two
Toto: The Wizard of Oz
One job of dogs in fiction has always been to cut through the layers of verbiage and convention that befuddle their human masters, and get to the plain truth. Toto – a Cairn terrier called Terry – stands squarely in this tradition, biting the horrid schoolteacher Miss Gulch and pulling back the curtain that hides the fake Wizard of Oz. He also causes Dorothy to miss a balloon flight back to Kansas, by taking off after a cat; unfortunately,|he doesn’t have the moxie to go for those scary flying monkeys. Star rating: twoReuse content