Oscar Talk for Furry Film Stars

Jan 11, 2012 9:37am
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                                                                                   Image Credit: Rex/AP Photo

This year’s motion pictures have a special, furry something that sets them above the rest. From “man’s best friend” to one of his oldest companions, this was the year of the animal. Many animal trainers are pushing for Oscar nominations – or even a separate category – for the furry thespians.

They point to several major characters played by Oscar-worthy animals this year. Two on our radar are Joey from Steven Spielberg’s ”War Horse” and the dog in the silent film, “The Artist.” 

Joey in ’War Horse’

Trainer Bobby Lovgren told USA Today that Joey, the thoroughbred horse in “War Horse,” was played by a total of 10 horses to display his journey, from foal to adult. But one in particular caught our eye as an Oscar-worthy stallion.

The scene was one of the most heart-wrenching in the movie. Joey was trapped in barbed wire, with fear visible in his eyes.

“To get this effect, a lot of desensitization is used with horses,” said Nancy Novograd, owner of All Tame Animals Inc., an animal talent agency in New York City. That way, a horse knows that even though something is frightening, it’s not harmful. You see the fear in Joey’s eyes but he does not panic, like untrained horses would. That makes this Joey Oscar-worthy in our eyes.

“Bold, brave horses work the best for movies,” Novograd said.  ”They’re very trainable. There’s a certain beauty and majesty of horses that adds depth to this movie.”

“I’ve never done anything like it before. I had more control over ET,” director Steven Spielberg joked. “But Joey behaved, Joey was great. But then Joey started doing things that weren’t expected. A lot of his performance is improvisational.”

The Dog in ‘The Artist’

There is a lot of Oscar buzz surrounding the silent film, “The Artist.” And many people believe the canine sidekick is a major factor. The dog, who is nameless in the film, was played by Uggie, a 10-year-old Jack Russell Terrier.

Beyond the talent of the animal – who is one of our top picks for a canine Oscar – a lot of weight rests on the actor’s handling of their furry co-star.

“Besides being a great actor, he was a great dog-handler,” Uggie’s trainer, Omar Von Muller, told USA Today of actor Jean Dujardin.

“An actor can be a huge asset or very problematic,” Novograd said. “You need to establish a rapport between the actor and the animal. When you have that rapport, it’s beyond wonderful.”

Other Oscar-worthy performances included Buster the bear in ”We Bought a Zoo,” starring Matt Damon; Arthur, the Jack Russell Terrier who starred in  “Beginners” alongside Ewan McGregor; Maximilian, the ferocious Doberman pinscher in Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo”; the comical drug-dealing monkey in “The Hangover Part II”; and Tai the elephant playing Rosie in “Water for Elephants.”

“There’s something more personal about having animals in a movie,”  Novograd said. “It’s something people can relate to and it just brings another emotion to the production.”

And that, she thinks, deserves recognition.

“Making a film is a collaborative effort. If you don’t have everybody pulling for it, it shows. And this is just another part of the team,” she said.

The American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which awards the Oscars, did not respond to a request for comment.

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