Wild Kingdom: Hollywood’s Over the Top Animal Scenes

Nick Nunziata

Cruelty to animals is unacceptable, a stance anyone who doesn’t own Jimmy Johns is aware of. It goes without saying. The world of media is a little different because for every film like an Independence Day where a dog somehow dodges a massive explosion there’s one in which animals take the brunt of ultraviolence for shock or even humorous purposes.

It’s a fine line. For many of us, these scenes exist in cinema to either capitalize on the visceral emotional impact of an animal being threatened or are a surrogate for having to watch the same thing happen to a human being. We’re desensitized. Flip the channels on any given night and people are being stabbed, shot, impaled, or punched into oblivion. I’ve seen a kid die in a commercial for crying out loud. Animals still get us, at least those of us with hearts.

There are sadly many cases of animals being abused for the sake of art and in my opinion, no piece of celluloid is worth an animal’s life. There have been astonishing cases where the casualties of animals on set showcased an utter lack of respect for animal rights. They proved how necessary it was to establish safeguards to prevent them from that kind of abuse ever happening again. This is not an article about those injustices. That kind of actual journalism can be found here. This is to showcase where the filmmakers went over the top with their onscreen animal damage and share a few moments where they went above and beyond.

Tragic? Funny? Weird? Excessive? You’ll find it here.

Today: Horses.

Blazing Saddles


Heeeeeee’re’s Mongo!

That iconic moment from Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles was a big bonding moment for my father and I. Knowing he had a bit of a weirdo living under the roof, he shared the seminal and hilariously politically incorrect film with a son who was probably too young to see it. In the wrong context, a man punching a horse in the face is a horrific thing to see. In the context of that movie at that place in time at that part of my youth, it was magical. Westerns are the number one culprit in movie history for abusing horses, but leave it to Mel Brooks to go the other way and deliver a memorable gag that is obviously not endangering the real animal. Alex Karras was an NFL star and before he went onto sitcom fame with Webster, it was this role that earned him fans outside the sporting world. Mongo is a brute who is manipulated by the villains of the film into doing their dirty work. Unfortunately for the horse, it caught Mongo on a bad day.

The Motivation: Mongo is big and dumb and strong. A horse’s face is a good place for a fist.


The Ring


Gore Verbinski’s American remake of the beloved Japanese horror flick is a lot of things. A movie without a color palette, a film prejudiced against wells, and a movie that may have been funded by Elmers if the horse treatment were any indicator. Were it not for the film’s shaky CGI quality this could have been a really harrowing moment in cinema. Luckily, we all know how horses move. So when the frenzied beast of burden loses its mind on the local ferry and ultimately jumps overboard into an assured rotor death, the bad special effects keep us from being too maudlin.

It happens. If you’re having the kind of day where a “pick me up” could emerge from the sight of Naomi Watts causing a horselocaust, here’s the scene.

The Motivation: The unfortunate horse from The Ring may have known that there was a supernatural stink on Naomi Watts or it just really wasn’t a fan of Peter Jackson’s King Kong.


The Cell


What’s better than one horse? Twelve horses! Unfortunately for viewers of Tarsem Singh’s The Cell, it’s still just the one horse. It’s just been vivisected into a host of smaller, thinner horses. Inspired by the work of artist Damien Hirst, the unforgettable scene involves Jennifer Lopez being saved by a troubled young boy from one of those automated horse slicers they sell at Sears. Here’s a neat bit of trivia about The Cell: that’s not in the running for weirdest or most perverse scene in the movie. Somewhere in what I believe is section 11, the horse agrees.

The Motivation: The filmmakers needed something to distract audiences from remembering that there is also a naked, suspended, masturbating on a dead body Vincent D’onofrio in this movie.


The Revenant


This may actually be the most cheerful scene in The Revenant. It only involves one living thing losing all meaning in life and suffering major trauma. There also has to be a moment of elation as horse and rider plunge off a cliff where the world seems free and the only laws are those of light and prosperity. And gravity.

Leonardo Dicaprio rode a horse off a cliff, allowed that horse to absorb the bulk of the impact, and then hollowed out the horse’s already ruined beauty and made a frontier sleeping bag out of it. That’s Christmas morning for The Revenant. A break from all the sorrow. Have a great day everyone!

The Motivation: Leonardo is a much bigger box office draw than a flat horse.


The Godfather


The Mafia is not to be trifled with. We’ve learned this from countless books, movies, video games, and television shows. What is the one common denominator between all of those forms of media? Not big in the horse community. Very little time is spent by the hoofed mammals catching up on pop culture. They’re too busy enjoying oats and being baffled by hairless animals climbing on their backs. As a result, it’s a shame when an innocent horse loses its head to teach a lesson to a difficult Hollywood mogul. The famous scene in Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece is great on many levels, but not on any levels horses agree on. If only they had hands or internet access!


What animal who deserves none of this rude treatment will be next? I don’t know, but there’s a very good chance it won’t be this fallen comrade:

Nick Nunziata
Nick Nunziata created CHUD.com.
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