17 Heartwarming Films for Animal Lovers

So here’s the thing, you guys. While I like animals, I wouldn’t call myself a pet person. They require too much of my time and attention. But I do enjoy them vicariously. Animals can be majestic, intelligent, even mischievous characters.

Onscreen they are often portrayed as larger than life, almost human and almost always lovable. I’ve put together list of films which celebrate the best of animal traits.  I’m sure it will come as no surprise, that a majority of these were produced by Disney. All of which I’ve seen and can vouch for.

Ring of Bright Water (1969) – I wouldn’t have thought a film about otters  could hold my attention so well, but I was definitely wrong. I loved this story about a man whose decision to become an otter owner completely changes his life. Part of the charm of this movie is the quaint, rural life the owner adopts as well.

Greyfriar Bobby: The True Story of a Dog (1961) – This true story about a dog who remains loyal to his owner after his owner’s death both charmed me and just about ripped my heart out. The dog himself is quite a character, one I would trust more than I would some people. But the picture is also elevated by performances from some well known British actors. How their stories entertwine with Greyfriar Bobby along with some local orphans, shows humankind at its’ best and worst.

National Velvet (1944) – I mean, who doesn’t love this heartwarming, gorgeously filmed tale of a young girl who believes her horse can win a famous national race? I’ve always thought this was one of Elizabeth Taylor’s best performances, particularly as she interacts with the horse, Pie. I’ve written a longer review of the film here, but let’s just say the bond between a child and their beloved animal has rarely been better portrayed than here.

The Incredible Journey (1963) – This film fills me with nostalgia and transports me back to my childhood. Unlike the original, this movie has no dialogue and very little human presence. Instead, the narrator alone keeps the pace of this story moving along. It’s quite a feat to keep a child entertained for the length of a film, but it always kept me engrossed and wondering if these three animals would find their long way home.

Eight Below (2006) – Ugh, another tear jerker. I’ve seen many movies depicting the sacrifice of one human for another. But it is rare to see a human willing to sacrifice their life for the sake of animals. That is exactly what Eight Below depicts, an extraordinary tale of a man who goes to extreme lengths to rescue sled dogs left behind in Antarctica after all the people are evacuated.

Babe (1995) – This quirky movie is a family favorite.  It features the tale of a pig who dreams of doing something that has never been done before. Babe’s persistence, innocence and sweet nature make him utterly lovable. Add in some singing mice, an endearing relationship between Babe and his surrogate dog mother and it’s all win-win.

Old Yeller (1957) – I’m pretty sure watching this Disney movie about a family’s beloved dog, is a rite of passage. It’s certainly one of the more well-known animal films. While it ends in tragedy, the story of a dog’s loyalty to the young man who adopts him is sweet and familiar to anyone who has ever owned a dog.

Charlotte’s Web (1973) – I grew up watching this animated film about a young pig who is befriended by a spider. Never has a spider received a more positive portrayal than the titular Charlotte. While their friendship is the heart of the film, the other animals including Templeton the rat, add humor and interest. It is also a film which sensitively introduces the topic of death to children.

Lassie Come Home (1943) – The story of a faithful collie originally began as a short story and eventually transformed into a series of films and even a television series. Lassie is one of the more famous of film animals and has had numerous adventures. This is one smart dog who always finds her way home.

War Horse (2011) – Why do so many animal-centric films end with me in tears? I loved the creative license this film takes in showing WWI through the eyes of a horse. Joey (the horse) is every bit as much of a soldier as the men, in his own unique way. And his journey through the battle fields back home is just as touching.

The God’s Must Be Crazy II (1989) – A pilot and his female passenger get stuck in the African bush and must make their way back to civilization, but not before several encounters with animals. Does anyone remember the Youtube video about the honey badger who didn’t give a $h!t that was circulating a couple of years ago? I instantly thought of this movie from my childhood which also features a very persistent badger. Because this film is set in Africa, animals play a big part in this film even if they aren’t the main focus.

The Art of Racing in the Rain (2019) – This canine feature is unique in that it is told and narrated from the dog’s perspective. The story of his life with his beloved owner is both sweet and bittersweet and delves into some emotional territory.

Big Miracle (2012) – Based on a true story, this movie depicts the rescue attempts of a family whales trapped by the ice of an approaching Alaskan winter. The whales plight eventually captures international interest thanks to a news reporter. It’s an engrossing but lovingly told story about these large mammals.

That Darn Cat (1965) – A childhood favorite, I always appreciated the premise of the FBI having to tail a cat to solve a crime! Of course, it doesn’t hurt that this Disney classic stars Hayley Mills. But it’s the crafty cat D.C (for Darn Cat, of course) who steals the show.

Operation Dumbo Drop (1995) – It’s been a while since I saw this, but I remember it being a very entertaining and interesting film. The whole premise of transporting an elephant to a remote Vietnam jungle as a good-will operation is completely unique. The logistics involved to do such a thing is something only the military could pull off.

Secretariat (2010) – There are several movies which feature race horses, but this one is a personal favorite. I love Disney’s take on not only the horse racing world, but also its message of hope and focus on family. You can’t help but cheer along with Secretariat’s owner for this horse with so much heart.

The Big Year (2011) – Who would have thought a movie about bird watching could be so interesting?! It helps that the characters are true and committed bird aficionados as that passion translates well to the audience.  And while I enjoyed the characters’ individual story lines in their race to see who could spot the most birds, I enjoyed seeing all the different birds they discovered, especially the snowy owl.

What are some of your favorite films featuring animals?

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