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Chinese New Year: Man's Best Friend

The following correspondence between various writers at RogerEbert.com was inspired by the Chinese New Year that begins today, February 16th. I always love reading the discussions between our wonderful group of contributors, and always find new films to seek out.—Chaz Ebert

JANA MONJI

As some of you might know, my life is run by dogs and I spend many weekends running with dogs, specifically collies.

One of my favorite essays by Roger, was his one about his first dog, Blackie, "Blackie Come Home," which was published on 14 February 2009--my first Valentine's Day with my husband and my first one in decades without a dog.  

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Growing up, my first family dogs also had untimely deaths. On my own, I first owned rescued dogs, including one who met the artist of Weimaraner fame, William Wegman. The same dog attended the opening of the 1994 "Lassie" at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. He was appropriately named Laddie because my love of collies came not from watching Lassie saving Timmy, but from the books like "Lad: A Dog" by Albert Payson Terhune. (When people call my dog "Lassie," I almost always reply, "Better looking than Lassie.")

Terhune's Lad was a show dog, but my Laddie was not. Even so, I once did an article for the Los Angeles Times about real dog show people as they critiqued the movie "Best in Show." Never did I imagine that I'd be one of those crazy competition people, not only competing in conformation, but also in canine agility.

There are times as I pack up dog toys for the show, when I feel on the edge of becoming that Weimaraner couple, Meg and Hamilton Swan (Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock). 

For Valentine's Day, we like to watch "Lady and the Tramp" although the lady dog we have now is the former pound pup and the boys are the current show dogs. 

Of course, as Roger's essay on Blackie notes, dealing with a dog's death is a tragedy that "leaves an empty space inside" and "Old Yeller" prepared me for that while "Frankenweenie" is a humorous howl-worthy horror story about childish wishes coming true. 

I am naturally looking forward to the animated feature "Isle of Dogs" and even, the comedy "Show Dogs." My current favorite dog movies are:

1. "Best in Show"
2. "Frankenweenie" (2012)
3. "Lady and the Tramp" (1955)
4. "Old Yeller" (1957)
5. "Quill: The Life of a Guide Dog" (2004)

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So what are your favorite dog movies or dog-related moments? 

OLIVIA COLLETTE

I love the way they're characterized in "Up!"

I'm partial to the short, "Feast." [embedded below]

I'm also reminded of a Canadian movie called "The Wild Dogs," which co-stars one of my faves, Alberta Watson (RIP). This film wasn't particularly great, but it tried really hard, which pretty much sums up a lot of non-Québécois Canadian cinema.

ANATH WHITE

Instead of favorite dog films, this is more like a confession.

Seeing “Old Yeller” as a child was so upsetting that I’ve never gone near it again. (The same is true of “Bambi.”)

And, although a film-loving, Spanish-speaking cousin has tsk-tsk’d me endlessly (“It’s a few moments at the start of the film...”), I began, then quit “Amores Perros,” never to return.

I did, however, adore “White God.” In fact, I want to see it again right now. 

And who can forget “Umberto D.?”

NELL MINOW

“Lassie Come Home,” of course, and “As Good as It Gets.”  Every year for Valentine’s Day I post the clip of the spaghetti kiss in “Lady and the Tramp” but I also love Pongo and Perdita in “101 Dalmatians” (beautifully voiced by Rod Taylor and Cate Bauer).  “The Incredible Journey” and the remake, “The Shaggy Dog” (the original), “Hachi” (tears in my eyes just typing that), and “Best in Show” (I am not an expert, but I would have given the prize to John Michael Higgins and Michael McKean.  Oh, and “Journey of Natty Gan.”  

JANA MONJI

I'm actually attending a special human and dog spaghetti dinner sponsored by Disney with dog spaghetti provided by Just Food for Dogs and human spaghetti by Sqirl LA. 

Don't think we'll have romance at the doggie end of our table since our boys don't even have a bromance going, but Ian and I will find it romantic if not chaotic.

Hachi is based on the true story of Hachiko and I've waited at the statue of the dog at Shibuya Station in Tokyo, Japan. I don't think my dogs would wait for me every day at any station though, except perhaps my first collie, Laddie. 

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SUSAN WLOSZCZYNA

As an owner of the world’s cutest West Highland terrier, I now truly appreciate the song Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy perform in “Best of Show.” I covered that film for USA TODAY and Christopher Guest, always a contrarian at heart, insisted that it wasn’t a movie about dogs but about people. Me, I rather watch dogs as I did this year, choosing The Puppy Bowl over that thing the NFL put on.

I like “My Dog Skip” and “The Mask,” a time when Jack Russells were in vogue.

And has anyone ever seen the oldie but goodie, “The Biscuit Eater,” from 1940?

But I have to go with Toto as my favorite. Up until they brought out a 3-D big-screen version of “The Wizard of Oz” for its 75th anniversary in 2014, I never paid a great deal of attention to Dorothy’s beloved canine given that I had only previously seen it on the small screen. But viewing it in all its theatrical glory made me realize how great an actress Terry the Cairn terrier was – yes, a she played a he. Here is what I wrote at the time:

“Whether sitting enraptured and gently gesturing with a raised paw during “Over the Rainbow,” fearlessly escaping from Miss Gulch's bike basket or leading the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion uphill to the Wicked Witch's castle so they can rescue Dorothy, Toto clearly possesses most of the brains, heart and courage on display in the film. He even prevents his owner from flying off in the hot-air balloon with the Wizard, clearly a pompous windbag who is ultimately not to be trusted.” 

Oh, and here are the lyrics to the terrier song and a link to the “Best in Show” rendition:

"God loves a terrier
yes he does
God loves a terrier
that's because
brown sturdy bright and true
they give their hearts to you
God didn't miss a stitch
be it dog or be it bitch
when he made the Norwich merrier
with his cute little 'derrier'
yes God loves a terrier!"

JANA MONJI

I've taken some of those "What kind of dog are you tests" and I always end up a terrier (usually a Yorkie)! Westies are cute. One of my favorite memories from covering the AIDS Walk LA was a cartload of Westies brightening everyone's day as their owners pulled the wagon by. 

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DONALD LIEBENSON

I'm going back now to the days of Saturday afternoon matinees at the Alycon Theatre in Highland Park, Illinois (fellow native William Goldman's favorite movie theatre, by the way), and a film called "The Littlest Hobo." It's "The Defiant Ones," but with a German Shepherd and a lamb. 

SHEILA O'MALLEY

"Megan Leavey." I reviewed it for the site last year and I was turned into a PUDDLE. 

SUSAN WLOSZCZYNA

I used to watch “The Littlest Hobo” TV show on Canadian TV. I don’t think the lamb made the cut, though. It had a great theme song, full of yearning to hit the road.

SHEILA O'MALLEY

I also love Asta, so much a part of the hijinx in 1930s screwball. Asta is the key role in "Awful Truth"! Without Asta, Cary Grant and Irene Dunne might have gone their separate ways. But the custody fight over the dog kept them tied together.

WAEL KHAIRY

Some of my favorites in no particular order:

"Old Yeller"
"Hachi: A Dog's Tale"
"The Fox and the Hound"
"White Fang"
"Shiloh"
"Umberto D"
"Snatch"
"The Sandlot"

STEVEN BOONE

"The Plague Dogs" (1982) gets me every time, so sad and sweet. And I'd be surprised if Wes Anderson doesn't reference it somewhere in "Isle of Dogs."

MATT FAGERHOLM

As a young moviegoer, few things reduced me to tears as swiftly as an endangered dog. I couldn't even finish "Benji The Hunted" because it was too traumatizing. "Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey" and "Air Bud" have scenes guaranteed to turn animals lovers of all ages into Sheila's aforementioned puddle. Max, the Jack Russell terrier that portrayed Milo in "The Mask," gives one of the best-directed canine performances in cinema.

And since we're championing Christopher Guest's "Best in Show," one of the greatest comedies ever made, I must give a shout-out to Fred Willard's Oscar-worthy portrayal of the clueless commentator, whose uproarious observations never fail to make me howl... 

PETER SOBCZYNSKI 

"A Fish Called Wanda."

OMER MOZZAFAR

I'm permanently scarred from "Devil Dog Hound of Hell." But I did love the ABC Saturday morning special, "Scruffy."

SUSAN WLOSZCZYNA

That reminds me – Puffy the Border terrier in "There’s Something About Mary." I kept a plush replica of her in a full-body cast on my desk at USA TODAY for years.

SEONGYONG CHO

[presented without comment, a musical satire of John Carpenter's "The Thing" by Jon and Al Kaplan]

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