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Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Animal Cliches in Stories & Movies
SUDDEN CAT! - These little critters just love to pop out of nowhere in horror movies, startling one of the characters (and giving the audience a cheap scare). This usually happens just before a psycho/alien/monster jumps out to kill the character.
THAT BELOVED DYING DOG - As Gordon Korman once wrote, “check any book in the library with a dog and an award sticker on the cover, trust me, that dog’s going down.” (Examples: Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows, Marley & Me, Sounder)
THE IMPOSSIBLY SMART HORSE - A staple of westerns since the genre was created, these creatures have uncanny intelligence at least equal to the bad guys, and have some sort of sixth sense to always be where their owner needs them to be in a time of crisis. Bonus cliché: the closer the horse is to his master, the more likely he is to die.
MISUNDERSTOOD WOLF - Replacing the old cliché that all wolves are inherently evil, wolves in modern stories are now noble, maligned creatures, unfairly persecuted and hunted down by angry farmers.
SHARKS - No matter the story or film, when a shark appears, the animal has an insatiable taste for human blood and will eat far more people than it can physically stomach.
BEAUTY IS ONLY SKIN DEEP - If the animal is fuzzy, it is a loveable hero. If it isn’t, it’s a horrifying monster, bent on killing people, especially if it is a reptile or insect.
SPIDERS - In stories and movies, all spiders are aggressive and deadly. Even tarantulas, who in real life sleep for days at a time, are lightning quick and attack without provocation. Then again, who wants to read a story or see a movie about a friendly spider? (Exception: Charlotte’s Web).
AMOROUS CANINE - Telling a story and want a cheap laugh? Have a tiny dog hump a character’s leg.
CHOICE OF PETS - Heroes own dogs. Villains (especially evil geniuses) own cats.
MONKEYS - Almost always depicted as endearingly cute, especially when they ape (no pun intended) human activity. Hey, this things fling their poo when angry! Then again, if we actually did that to voice our displeasure over something, most arguments would end before they began.
MONKEYS, PART 2 - Actually, the image of a poo flinging monkey is a cliché, too.
YOU GONNA EAT THAT? - Whenever a character is lost (on an island, in the desert, in the mountains, etc), he or she will inevitably be forced to eating an animal most of us would call an exterminator to get rid of.
SUPER-VILLAIN FISH TANK - If a super villain owns a fish tank, it is filled with piranhas. If he owns a pond, it is also filled with piranhas, only this time he feeds them a henchman who failed or betrayed him.
CATS - Unless the story is about them, most cat characters are generally evil…and always hungry.
BEARS - Bears love to show up at campsites, especially if the campers are city folks not used to the great outdoors. Hilarity ensues.
INCREDIBLE JOURNEYS - No matter the animal or breed, when abandoned, they will set off on a trek to find their masters, and somehow always succeed. And, of course, even though the master left without any regard for their pets, cry tears of joy whenever old Rex appears over the horizon. The heart-wrenching exception to this cliché is Richard Adams’ The Plague Dogs.
GENETICALLY ENHANCED SUPER BEAST - Scientists love to inject a normally docile animal with some weird concoction which turns it into a killing machine. What science stems to gain from such an experiment is not really understood.