Moviegoers have always had a special place in their hearts for animals. Everyone remembers Lassie and Old Yeller, Pie from National Velvet and the majestic Arabian from The Black Stallion. You can't think about the Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers or Gene Autry without recalling Silver, Trigger and Champion.
Then there are the animated stars of Babe, The Lion King and Finding Nemo. Call it The March of the Animals.
March of the Penguins, a documentary about the annual mating ritual of emperor penguins, is the current darling of the animal-movie world, taking in $40 million in about two months (while playing on far fewer screens than the big-budget movies).
And last week brought the animated Valiant, about a pigeon named Valiant (voiced by Ewan McGregor) who overcomes his small size by serving as a brave homing pigeon in service of Great Britain during World War II. It's a Little Engine That Could with wings. Here are some more beasts - great and small, precious and terrifying, real and make-believe - that recently arrived at the cineplex or are scheduled to show up in months to come:
Grizzly Man (opened Friday): Werner Herzog's devastating documentary on self-styled wildlife expert Timothy Treadwell. Herzog uses Treadwell's own footage of his summers living close to grizzly bears in Alaska's Katmai National Park. Treadwell was killed - mauled and eaten - by grizzlies in October 2003.
Dreamer: Didn't get enough Dakota Fanning this summer? Come fall, you can catch her as the daughter of a horse trainer (Kurt Russell) who rescues and nurses an injured racehorse back to health and championship potential. Inspired by a true story, this is a feel-good flick for those who like sweet little girls and noble horses. Opens Oct. 21.
Chicken Little: Another animated comedy, this chick flick is about a bird with a hyperactive imagination that lands it in hot water. Zach Braff, Amy Sedaris, Joan Cusak and Don Knotts lend their vocal talents to the story, set in a camp with evil counselors. Opens Nov. 4.
Goose!: Can't get enough talking pets? Check out this live-action comedy about a young boy who makes friends with a talking goose that's destined to be Christmas dinner. Opens Dec. 2.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: Four kids travel through a wardrobe closet to the land of Narnia, where they learn their destiny from a lion messiah. This live-action film (from the novel by C.S. Lewis) is directed by Shrek's Andrew Adamson and stars Tilda Swinton and Rupert Everett. Opens Dec. 9.
King Kong: The best (and loudest) of this summer's trailers was the heart-pumping peek at Peter (Lord of the Rings) Jackson's remake of the classic giant-gorilla story. From Skull Island to the tip top of Manhattan, Kong stands tall. He also falls in love with Naomi Watts. Jack Black and Adrien Brody also star in this highly anticipated winter release. Opens Dec. 14.
Barnyard: Kevin James, Courteney Cox and Danny Glover voice this barnyard hootenanny about pets who stray while the farmer's away. The animated comedy features singing, dancing and joking creatures galore. Opens Jan. 13.
Flicka: Many months before its release, this drama made news when two horses died in separate incidents while filming. The American Humane Association has determined that both deaths were accidents that could not have been prevented. Still, they cast a shadow over the film, which tells the story of a young girl who claims a wild horse in an effort to prove to her father she can run the family ranch. Opens Feb. 17.
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