In Hollywood, awards season is already in full swing, although it’s at least three months until the Oscars ceremony. The big news so far is that, in a year in which the Best Picture category has been extended from five nominees to 10, the scaling down of the big studios’ specialty divisions has led to the inevitable consequence of there being significantly fewer awards-worthy pictures.
Such concerns were far from the minds of the dog lovers who attended the third annual Fido awards, honouring canine excellence on the big screen, held yesterday at London’s BFI Southbank. Who cares about the impact of the fiscal crisis on Hollywood when tails are still wagging on the big screen?
There may no longer be film franchises to rival those family friendly staples Lassie and Rin Tin Tin, but 2009 has been an especially rich year for doggie movies, and the Fidos rewarded some of its biggest box office successes. Marley & Me proved that you don’t need to have a crafted, three-act story structure to have a gigantic worldwide hit: two Miami journalists buy a disobedient puppy, have some kids, move house, the dog’s still naughty, sorry, what were we rooting for again? Anyway, Marley was great, or rather the 14 golden labradors playing him at various ages were great, and they collectively romped home to a Fido win in the Romcom Rover category, beating off Kevin, the fluffy white eskimo dog in Sandra Bullock’s The Proposal, and Jason Segel’s puggle Anwar Sadat (so named because of a resemblance to the deceased Egyptian leader) in I Love You Man.
Comedy Canine likewise offered especially strong competition with no fewer than three family blockbusters â€“ Beverly Hills Chihuahua, Hotel for Dogs and Disney animation Bolt â€“ showcasing lead performances by canines. Those blueberry-eating guard dogs that appear briefly in Fantastic Mr Fox never stood a chance. In the end, the chihuahuas won. Chloe’s journey from pampered Beverly Hills princess (those outfits: adorable!) to a dog that reconnected with her Mexican roots and learned valuable life lessons: now, that’s what we call a winning formula.
In Blockbuster Bowser, Dug â€“ the squirrel-chasing, talking dog from Pixar animation Up â€“ was a popular win, beating off competition including the Scotties in Coraline and Clint Eastwood’s labrador Daisy in Gran Torino. In a year in which the top five blockbusters featuring significant canine performances grossed a collective $1.4bn at cinemas worldwide, Up contributed a sizable chunk of that coin.
Two dogs appeared in person, so to speak, to collect their winner’s rosettes. Staffordshire bull terrier Syrus, who plays Tennents in Andrea Arnold’s affecting slice of east London social realism Fish Tank, won for Mutt Moment, and he was there with his trainer Steve Cain, who works with Rona Brown’s Movie Animals. Cavalier King Charles spaniel Tori, who plays Queen Victoria’s companion Dash in The Young Victoria, attended with trainer Gill Raddings of Stunt Dogs and Animals. Tori won both Historical Hound and Best in World, the Fidos’ equivalent of Best in Show. It’s a happy turnaround for Tori that began when Gill, asked to supply a Cavalier six weeks before principal photography on the film, rescued her from Battersea Dogs Home and trained her to order.
For the jury members, thoughts are already turning to the 2010 Fidos. The pooch whose life is cheeringly saved in Roland Emmerich’s expensive disaster movie 2012 is an obvious early candidate for Blockbuster Bowser. Meanwhile Owen Wilson, who merely played the dog’s co-owner in Marley & Me, moves up to voice the canine lead in Marmaduke, based on the Brad Anderson newspaper comic strip about the Winslow family and their great dane. And then there’s Cats & Dogs 2, worryingly subtitled The Revenge of Kitty Galore.
In Hollywood, a small action performed by the hero to endear him or her to the audience is often referred to by writers and producers as a “pat the dog” moment. And what better idea than to have the person actually pat a dog? Environmentalists may increasingly view our millions of canines as superfluous manufacturer of CO2, but the movie industry is not about to end its love affair with man’s best friend.
2009 Fido Award winners
Romcom Rover: Marley, Marley & Me
Comedy Canine: Chloe and friends, Beverly Hills Chihuahua
Blockbuster Bowser: Dug, Up
Mutt Moment: Tennents (played by Syrus), Fish Tank
Historical Hound/Best In World: Dash (played by Tori), The Young Victoria