Dogs bring out unbearably strong feelings in us, from the glee we feel with the first wag of a tail to the despair when they take their last breath. Moviemakers are also brilliant at pushing our buttons. It’s their art and business to make us laugh and cry. The technical term the feelings movies wrench out of us is “catharsis”—from an ancient Greek word that means to purge or purify. The arts allow us to vent in the theater so we don’t act like lunatics in our daily lives.
Put these two gut-busting forces together—canines and cinema—and you have an emotional tsunami that is more than the average mortal can bear. Ever ask a Labrador Retriever owner to chat about the end of Marley and Me? Or a serious dog fancier to muse on her favorite moment in Best in Show? And what about Where the Red Fern …? Nevermind, we here at Woofipedia can’t really mention that title without bursting into tears.
We did a quick survey and came up with 10 high points in cinema canine catharsis:
When a big Saint Bernard named Beethoven shows us that love may be messy, but still worth it.
That wonder at finding a dog, especially if, like Dug from Up, he can talk.
The thrill of growing together, like Hachiko and his professor.
That reminder that no matter how tame and domesticated you seem, there’s a touch of something in everyone that wants to run with the wolves. (Skip to 2:32-2:42 to hear the call of the wild.)
The scene in As Good As It Gets that proves that no matter how rude, rotten, and weird a person may be, a dog can make him, if not perfect, at least better. (Skip to 5:36-5:46.)
The moment in Old Yeller that makes it clear that there are some things that will break our hearts, but we have to do them anyway. (Grab a tissue, then watch 3:25-35.)
In My Dog Skip, memories of the “dog of your boyhood,” when you’ve had to leave youth and the dog behind.
The twilight bark in 101 Dalmatians that makes you feel that no matter how sad or bad things get, you’re never really alone.
And in Eight Below.
And The Adventures of Yellow Dog.
And finally, in Frankenweenie, when our greatest, most impossible dream comes true.
Dogs can feel all the feelings, too. See a Pug's emotional response to Homeward Bound here.