Animals in Movies: The 10 Best

Written by AZ Animals Staff
Updated: June 7, 2022
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Animal lovers agree that an animal actor makes any movie better, whether they star as a main character or play a supporting role to humans. There are also animal movies about pets or wild animals, which are popular for kids. Not all animals in movies are the same, though, as they are most known for either being smart, funny, heroic, loving, beautiful, or even terrifying. Here is more information about the best animals in movies.

Sweet: Bambi

Animals in Movies
Bambi, an American animated film, released in 1942, is considered a classic in the Disney canon for its lush hand-drawn animation and its sensitive effective narrative.

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Bambi is one of the first movies many people watched as children. It’s clear to understand why: the deer Bambi is curious and adorable as the main character. He loves his mother, and when she is killed by humans hunting for deer, he has to survive. Fortunately, he has many forest friends, including the rabbit Thumper, to care for him. He grows into a stunning buck and finds love.

Wise: Old Yeller

Animals in Movies
A yellow Labrador Retriever mixed breed dog sitting outdoors and winking at the camera. The name of the dog that played in the film is ‘Spike’. He also appeared in The She-Creature (1956), walking along the beach with Marla English.

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The story of a yellow dog that everyone loves, Old Yeller is an adventure drama. A teenage boy finds a stray dog that came to his house and reluctantly adopts him. People first believe to be a good-for-nothing mutt, until the dog protects the boy against wild animals. The dog is played by a 170-pound Yellow Mastador, a Labrador Retriever/English Mastiff mix. This movie is a coming-of-age story for the boy who learns about love and loss and doing the right thing even if it hurts. It’s emotional and will make you cry, with one of the saddest ending scenes in an animal movie.

Romantic: Lady and the Tramp

Portrait of nice American Cocker Spaniel
While Lady’s inspiration came from an animator’s dog, Walt Disney got the idea for Tramp from Ward Greene’s short story Happy Dan, The Whistling Dog. 

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Lady and the Tramp is a classic romantic animal movie. Lady is a Cocker Spaniel who feels neglected at home and ends up venturing outside. She eventually finds the Tramp, a stray mutt who gets into trouble, but protects her and shows her what life on the streets is like. They end up falling in love, returning to her home, and having puppies together. The best scene is the part where they share a spaghetti noodle and kiss after they each eat their end.

Heartwarming: Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey

Chocolate point doll-faced Himalayan cat with striking light blue eyes sitting in the garden.
“Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey” is actually based on a true story.

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A movie that captures all hearts, Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey has three animal actors as main characters. They are Chance, an adventurous young American bulldog; Sassy, a fussy but funny Himalayan cat; and Shadow, an old, wise Golden Retriever who knows his way around. The three get lost after their family drops them off at a friend’s ranch for vacation, believing they were abandoned, and deciding to find their way back home to them. This is an adventure-comedy that is perfect for kids or the whole family.

Funny: Ice Age

Animals in Movies
All ground sloths in this film and its successors were designed with traits of both prehistoric ground sloths and modern tree sloths.

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Introducing children to the concepts of prehistoric times and prehistoric animals has never been more fun, or funny, than with this movie. Ice Age is a computer-animated comedy about a group of four animals: A sarcastic saber-toothed tiger, a noisy sloth, a serious wooly mammoth, and a prehistoric squirrel-rat cross named Scrat, who serves as the main character that gets into mischief. They find a human baby and work together to return it to its tribe.

Heroic: The Lion King

Animals in Movies
The Lion King is the highest-grossing hand-drawn animated feature of all time with a total box office of over $986 million.

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The animated musical drama The Lion King truly lives up to its genre. Produced during the Disney Renaissance period, it is a magical story of a kingdom of African lions with Simba as the main character along with several other animals. It begins with the young lion Simba being advised by his father Mufasa in order to succeed him as the next King of the Pridelands, but unfortunately, Simba’s paternal uncle Scar murders Mufasa and illegitimately steals the throne. Scar is manipulative and terrifying and gets Simba to believe he was responsible for his father’s death, encouraging him to flee into exile. He gets friendship and life advice from Timon and Pumbaa, a meerkat and warthog who are outcasts. His childhood friend Nala, who is a female lion, and his shaman Rafiki both put things into the proper perspective for him and he then confronts Scar, ending his tyranny and taking his rightful place as king in the Circle of Life.

Fun: The Jungle Book

Animals in Movies
The Jungle Book’s stories of a human boy named Mowgli raised by animals in the wild made for riveting reading. In these tales, the animals proved to be both Mowgli’s allies and adversaries.

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The Jungle Book was inspired by the real-life story of male feral child Dina Sanichar, who was raised by wolves. In the animated adventure-musical-comedy, the boy is named Mowgli and is known as the man-cub. His friends Baloo the Bear and Bagheera the Panther try to convince him to return to civilization. However, a tiger named Sheere Khan wants to kill Mowgli as vengeance for humans scarring him with fire. Mowgli decides to leave the forest to keep his friends safe but gets kidnapped by a band of monkeys and the king demands him to make the “red flower” which is fire. Mowgli escapes with the help of his friends and confronts Sheere Khan, but accidentally starts a forest fire, and Mowgli has to save everyone.

Dramatic: The Little Mermaid

Male purple Fiddler Crab from West Africa filtering sand.
Sebastian (full name Horatio Thelonious Ignacious Crustaceous Sebastian) is a crab and one of the main protagonists in Disney’s 1989 hit film The Little Mermaid, its prequel film, its TV series, and its sequel.

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The Little Mermaid is based on a Danish fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. A 16-year-old mermaid named Ariel is beautiful, with a wonderful life living in the fantasy kingdom of Atlantica with her friends Flounder and Sebastian the crab. However, she experiences wanderlust and desires to be human, sneaking up to the surface in spite of her father King Triton’s anger and her friend Sebastian the crab’s discouragement. She collects human artifacts with her best friend Flounder.

One night on one of her outings, she sees a birthday celebration on a ship for Prince Eric and falls in love with him. When a violent storm hits, she rescues him from drowning and brings him to shore, singing. He wakes up remembering her enchanting voice but never seeing her, vowing to find her. Ariel decides to go to the sea-witch Ursula to become human, and she gives her a potion to give her legs in exchange for her voice. But there is a caveat: She must get a kiss of true love from Prince Eric within three days to remain human forever, or she will return to mermaid form and belong to Ursula.

Eric finds her on the shore and brings her to live with him in his castle. To thwart Ariel, Ursula uses her voice and disguises herself as a young, beautiful woman named Vanessa to enchant Eric and get him to want to marry her. A seagull named Scuttle tells Ariel about Ursula, and Ariel and several sea animals disrupt the wedding procession. Ursula’s nautilus shell around her neck breaks, thereby also breaking the spell. However, it is too late because the sun sets and Ariel returns to being a mermaid and becomes Ursula’s slave. Her father offers himself in exchange, and Ursula turns him into a polyp, leaving Ursula to declare herself the new ocean ruler. Eric kills Ursula and the polyps return to their true form. King Triton decides to turn Ariel into a human permanently, seeing that she truly loves Eric, and approves their marriage.

Cute: 101 Dalmatians

Animals in Movies
The story is based on Dodie Smith’s own experience. Dodie Smith, the author who wrote the book that inspired the film, actually had nine dalmatians–one of which, was named Pongo. Only 6 of Perdita and Pongo’s 15 puppies have names.

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The animated adventure comedy film 101 Dalmations is a handful of puppies. Cruella de Ville is a villainous woman who kidnaps a litter of dalmatian puppies in order to make their fur into coats. Perdita and Pongo, the puppies’ parents, go on a mission to rescue them. The story ends with their rescue as well as that of 84 other dalmatian puppies Cruella had bought from pet shops, totaling 101.

Incredible: Jurassic Park

How Long Were Dinosaurs on Earth
Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park wasted no time becoming the highest-grossing film of all time in 1993. It’s a triumph of science fiction, suspenseful filmmaking, and storytelling in general that captivated audiences around the world with the perfect mix of spectacle and substance.

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The science-fiction movie Jurassic Park uses animatronics and computer-generated imagery to create realistic-looking, massive and terrifying dinosaurs. It has a plot involving the creation of a theme park containing cloned dinosaurs. Beginning as a great vision, it quickly turns into disaster as the dinosaurs become increasingly aggressive. The humans must find a way to escape as well as destroy the theme park.

Whether it’s a movie with several or all animals, or it has an animal as the main character or a supporting one, animal movies are a genre all their own. Wild animals or pets alike can be animal actors as they are trained for their roles, or the animal movie can be animated. Animal movies are enriching for kids to watch alone or with their families.

Next Up: Kids Raised by Animals

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About the Author

AZ Animals is a growing team of animals experts, researchers, farmers, conservationists, writers, editors, and -- of course -- pet owners who have come together to help you better understand the animal kingdom and how we interact.