Nearly 95 years ago, Bobbie the Wonder Dog went viral. Brought on a trip to Indiana and effectively left for dead following an extended disappearance, Bobbie reappeared months afterward on the Silverton, Ore., doorstep of his owners, making headlines nationwide as reporters verified accounts of the collie's 2,800-mile hike home. Books were written, medals and bejeweled collars were awarded, and the silent film The Call of the West would star Bobbie as himself.
That was the first notable entrant among a weirdly fruitful cinematic collaboration pairing captivating canines with local landscapes. Consider the following films, then, the best of breed to enjoy with our Pet Issue.
BEST IN SHOW:
Benji the Hunted (1987)
Top dog: Benjean, daughter of the original "Benji" Higgins, filled the titular role.
His/her purpose: Washed overboard while filming a movie along the Oregon Coast, Benji finds four orphaned cougar cubs he must hide and protect from eagles, hunters and timber wolves.
The bark: "Benji's slavering devotion to categorical duty…ranks him among the great Kantian moralists of the screen." —Chicago Reader review
The bite: Save for a few awkward scene-setting moments with humans—including KGW's Nancy Francis as a reporter announcing the dog star's disappearance—franchise creator Joe Camp eschews dialogue for inventive, electro-scored, dog's-eye-view chase scenes and cerebral gamesmanship between mutt and wolf.
Training lesson: If a picture calls for boating adventures featuring the canine screen idol of the era, maybe use a stunt dog?
Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993)
Top dogs and cat: Rattler, Bend and Tiki were the anthropomorphized stars of this remake of the 1963 Disney nature flick (also partially shot in Oregon) based on a 1961 YA novel.
Their purpose: Temporarily deposited at a friend's ranch while their owners travel to San Francisco, American bulldog pup Chance (voiced by Michael J. Fox), aging golden retriever Shadow (Don Ameche) and Himalayan longhaired cat Sassy (Sally Field) believe they've been abandoned. Shadow, worried for the family, decides to return home. Chance (pound rescue, bonding issues, sort of a dick) and Sassy petulantly accompany across harsh terrain fraught with rapids, predators and a lost little girl.
The bark: "It's built in. Has been ever since the dawn of time when a few wild dogs took it upon themselves to watch over man—to bark when he's in danger, to run and play with him when he's happy, to nuzzle him when he's lonely. That's why they call us man's best friend." —Shadow
The bite: With footage spanning the Gorge to Mount Hood, few films have ever featured so much of our state. The Eagle Cap Wilderness stands in for the Sierra Nevadas, Bend serves as Bishop, Calif., and, forecasting changes to come, downtown Portland plays San Francisco.
Training lesson: When leaving pets with an old college pal, ask if she has any imminent cattle drives planned that would prevent her from adequately watching the animals placed in her care.
Wendy and Lucy (2008)
Top dog: Lucy received the first unanimous vote to win the Palm Dog Award at Cannes for this film.
Her purpose: As sole companion of a near-penniless Wendy (Michelle Williams) on an ill-fated drive from Indiana to Alaska, Lucy vanishes during her owner's arrest for shoplifting dog food. The ensuing search complicated by bureaucracy and poverty plays out like Bobbie the Wonder Dog story's inverse.
The bark: "If a person can't afford dog food, they shouldn't have a dog." —Grocery clerk Andy (John Robinson)
The bite: Adapted by Portland writer Jon Raymond from his own short story, the documentation of a cipher's worsening struggles feels both wearying and manipulative.
Training lesson: Andy has a point, really.
Isle of Dogs (2018)
Top dog: A stop-motion animated sport hound named Spots (voiced by Liev Schreiber) is the loyal bodyguard of 12-year-old Atari.
Their purpose: After a governmental conspiracy deports the canine population of Megasaki to Trash Island, Atari braves the doggy refugee camp to rescue Spots but finds instead his dog's long-lost brother, Chief (Bryan Cranston), who leads the mutts in an insurrection.
The bark: "I'm not doing this because you commanded me to, I'm doing it because I feel sorry for you." —Chief
The bite: Though set in a futuristic Japan and filmed in London studios, longtime Portland resident and Will Vinton animation vet Paul Harrod spent more than two years handcrafting the cinematic landscapes in this movie.
Training lesson: Beware of cats, demagogues and, as with every Wes Anderson project, encroaching maturation.