I’ve done a lot of countdowns in the year since I started this blog but few will probably be as contentious as this one. I say this in good fun obviously because this is one of those lists made for harmless pandering that everyone can hopefully appreciate. This weekend one of my personal most anticipated films of the year, Wes Anderson’s “Isle of Dogs”, hits the big screen and as such I thought it would be perfect to look at some of the most iconic and memorable pups of the big screen, specifically the animated ones. Some of the most memorable canine companions ever made their debut in animated movies helping us laugh and even cry while serving as loyal partners for their human companions. So before you head out this weekend to see a new slew of animated pups, please enjoy my picks for the Top 10 Animated Movie Dogs.
For this list I’m only looking at animated pups from big screen films. Live action canines were for another list at another time. Whether they are a main character, side character, or a simple companion these animated canines were standouts in their films and added to the kid (or adult) friendly adventure. I did not differentiate between domesticated dogs or wild dogs so animals like wolves, coyotes etc that are still canines were also considered for this countdown. Also if a film featured a group of canines that stood out I included them as one “pack” so more than one dog can be featured in one spot on the list as long as they are from the same movie and can be grouped together and friends or family.
Finally I did consider dogs that were prominent in television shows and made the crossover to film, but just because they are iconic on TV doesn’t mean they stood out as well on film so they still may not make this list.
There were quite a few pups to choose from for this countdown so it’s pretty much a guarantee that I missed a few of your favorites. Let me know your favorite animated pooch in the comments below and look for my review of “Isle of Dogs” coming soon.
10. Dodger, “Oliver & Company”
It might not be Disney’s most remarkably memorable piece, but the studio’s 1988 take on “Oliver Twist”, “Oliver & Company”, is an underrated classic featuring one cool dog in Dodger. Set in New York City, “Oliver & Company” follows an orphaned cat named Oliver who teams up with a group of street dogs on a series of misadventures. The leader of these dogs is Dodger, a musical mutt played by Billy Joel in his only animated film appearance. Dodger is a cool, confident and capable street-wise pooch who teaches Oliver the finer points of living the simple life even if it’s on the streets. Dodger is shown to be a great leader and fiercely loyal to not only his owner, the pickpocket Fagin, but also his pack of street pups who all possess their own unique personalities to boot. Dodger is the first of many Disney dogs that will grace this list and is one of the best characters from one of Disney’s most underappreciated masterpieces. Also, fun fact, many animated pups from Disney’s previous films make cameos in this one so it’s worth checking out.
9. Gromit, “Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit”
A British creation of Aardman Animations, Gromit is the smart and trusted companion of Wallace and together the two make up one of the most famous pairings to ever come out of the United Kingdom. A claymation character, Gromit is a level headed pup who never speaks a word, but says more than you could imagine through body language and facial movements alone. Gromit is usually the smarter of the pair, helping his owner out of sticky situations when his inventions go awry. He also has a keen sense for danger, usually reading a situation before the true chaos emerges. Gromit might be a quiet pup, but he’s a highlight of the series and plays a big role in the pairs theatrical venture “Curse of the Were-Rabbit” where he has to step up to the plate to protect his master from, well, himself. Watch the movie, you’ll see what I mean. Gromit is as adorable as he is cunning and perceptive making him one of the more human dogs on this countdown.
8. Balto, “Balto”
Everyone loves a hero, which is probably why Balto remains an iconic figure in pop culture to this day. An anthropomorphic version of the famed husky that helped with the transport of much needed diphtheria antitoxin in Alaska in 1925 appeared the 1995 animated film named after the famed pup. The movie might take some liberties with his story but that doesn’t make Balto any less memorable or cherished as a character. Balto in real life was far from the only dog to help in the race against time, but he is the most legendary as he led the final leg of the actual run. In the movie Balto is portrayed as a half breed homeless loser among his fellow dogs, but quickly rises above his pigeonholed role in society to become the hero of the story. While many memorable dogs originated from Disney, it was Universal Studios that gave us this pooch who today is still an example of bravery and rising above the odds to do something great and continues to be a symbol of nostalgia for 90s kids everywhere.
7. Zero, “The Nightmare Before Christmas”
While some could debate what breed Zero was in life, it has been made clear this pop-culture icon from the 1993 classic “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is in fact a dog and he serves as the faithful companion of the film’s leading character Jack Skellington in his quest to bring Christmas to Halloweentown. Zero is a transparent ghost dog with a glowing red nosed, making him the Halloween equivalent of Rudolph, and becomes an important part of the story when he is recruited to lead Skellington’s sleigh. While he doesn’t say much and his movement is limited by his lack of appendages, Zero is more than his name lets on. He’s a vital part of Skellington’s life that has since become one of many character from this Gothic masterpiece to make his mark on pop culture through merchandise, clothing and, of course, tattoos. We can all only hope that our faithful canine companions are as loyal to us in the afterlife as this pooch is to his undead master.
6. Copper, “The Fox & the Hound”
Another Disney dog on this list, Copper is one half of the titular duo in this 1981 classic. Voiced by Kurt Russell, Copper is a hound dog puppy bred to help his owner in his hunting. However at a young age Copper becomes friends with a young fox named Todd. Despite being separated for a time, the two meet again at an older age but Copper has been fully trained in his duties as a hunting dog turning the two friends against each other as nature intended. Eventually though, the pair decides to remain friends even if this means staying away from each other in the process. Copper is a symbol of bravery and rising above life’s limitations to defend a friend in need. He challenges his place in the world and eventually even stands up to his owner all the while respecting his place by the hunter’s side. Copper is a complex character and one that has stolen the hearts of many as one half of one of Disney’s iconic mismatched pair of best friends.
5. Doug, “Up”
Yeah there’s a lot of Disney on this list. Doug is the scene stealing talking dog from Pixar’s 2009 Best Picture nominee “Up” and is discovered by protagonists Carl and Russell on their trip to Paradise Falls. Doug is equipped with a special collar by his owner, Charles Muntz, which allows his thoughts to be translated into verbal words that humans could understand. Usually talking in gibberish and occasionally breaking his attention to follow a squirrel, Doug is an adorable addition to this film that only wants to make his master proud by bringing home a bird called a Snipe that Carl and Russell discover. Doug eventually becomes a loyal ally to the human duo and the comic relief of the film, often adding a touch of adorable charm to any scene where he is featured. He might not be the brightest pooch in the pound so to speak, but in the end Doug proves to be one of the bravest and an undeniably loyal companion for the good guys in this story of wonder and adventure.
4. Charlie Barkin, “All Dogs Go to Heaven”
A con artist German Shepherd, Charlie Barkin is the main protagonist in the 1989 animated classic “All Dogs Go to Heaven”. After being murdered by his supposed friend and gangster Carface (a play on multiple gang leaders of the past including Scarface) Barkin escapes heaven to return to his friend Itchy and teams with a young orphan girl learning lessons about kindness, generosity and sacrifice along the way. A selfish pup at first, Barkin emBARKs (sorry bad pun) on a transformative journey as he steals a second chance at life only to discover he has been doing it all wrong. Barkin is also featured in sequels and television shows, but his original depiction in 1989, voiced by and designed around Burt Reynolds, remains his most memorable. Barkin is a flawed animal, more human than many actual humans in film, and one who makes bad choices in his life only to be given a truly unearned opportunity to become something greater. He makes the most of it and in the end sacrifices himself and his chance as immortality to do the right thing and for that he remains one of the most noble and memorable characters to come out of the mind of Don Bluth.
3. Slinky Dog, the “Toy Story” franchise
He might only be a side character, but in a film with so many memorable players even side characters become fan favorites. Slinky Dog is one of protagonist Woody’s best friends in “Toy Story”, a Pixar tale focusing on talking toys owned by a boy named Andy. Slinky lives up to his name having a slinky make up his mid-portion allowing him to stretch to great lengths and making him a fun part of Andy’s collection often used a “Forcefield Dog”. Slinky speaks with a southern accent originated by the late Jim Varney and possesses a stereotypical laid back southern personality making him one of the most level headed of Woody’s friends. He is also one of Woody’s most loyal companions, often standing up for the cowboy and being one of the last to doubt Woody during the disappearance of Buzz Lightyear in the first film. In subsequent films Slinky has been equally important, remaining an big part of the “Toy Story” gang. In the years since his debut he became the most popular alternate to the traditional Slinky and one of the most marketable characters of the film. Today he remains a standout movie pup everyone seems to love from a series of films with near universal acclaim.
2. Lady and Tramp, “Lady and the Tramp”
As I said at the beginning some pooches will be taken as a pack and in this case I couldn’t separate a legendary do like Lady and Tramp. When you think about one it’s impossible to ignore the other as these lovebirds make up one of Disney’s most beloved on-screen couples and are the subject of the legendary spaghetti scene often imitated in pop culture and parodies even to this day. The subjects of a story of mismatched love Lady, a cocker spaniel, and Tramp, a mutt, show the world that love does conquer all and that one’s social status and “breed” does not decide who you are allowed to love and be with. In a film filled with memorable pups, these two are the clear stand outs and, having made their debut in 1955 on the big screen, are also the oldest dogs on this list that set the standard for the trope which Disney and other studios would use over and over again. These are the two that showed how charmingly irresistible animated dogs could truly be.
1. The Dalmatians, “101 Dalmatians”
When you think dogs in movies this is probably the first group you go to. Picking any one of the 101 Dalmatians featured in both the animated and live action Disney films would be impossible so I decided to feature them as a pack. With numerous different personalities and styles to each of the 101 dogs, no two Dalmatians are the same and everyone seems to have their favorite among them. These pups solidified themselves in pop culture by taking on the evil Cruella DeVille and came together as a family to beat the odds and find their way home. Their popularity was so great when the film was released that they led to the unfortunate growth in adoptions for Dalmatians. I say unfortunate because people quickly learned that the spotted pooch is not exactly a family dog so just as many ended up right back in the pounds. Besides that unfortunate side effect, these Dalmatians remain among the most legendary of Disney dogs and considering the extensive number of dogs from the studio on this list alone you know that’s a feat in and of itself. When you consider the popularity of the pups over pretty much ANY dog in animated film, Disney or otherwise, you come to understand that there are 101 reasons why these pups made it on top of this list.