- A Just So Story that never ceases to fascinate is why giraffes look the way they do and here is an account of why.
2. Here is a Just So Story about why it is not what we think it is.
3. H. G. Wells’s The Food of the God and How It Came to Earth (1904) is the most famous modern tale about the genetic mixing of animals and humans. Of course, the idea goes back to Greek mythology and earlier. Here are a series of creepy clips of the “actual” remains of such supposedly ill-fated interbreeding.
6. And let us not forget Hollywood’s love of the interbreeding horror:
• The Alligator People (1959): crazy scientist turns man into an alligator by mistake.
• The Fly (1958): overly ambitious scientist exchanges body parts with a housefly.
• The Return of the Fly (1959): overly ambitious son of scientist exchanges body parts with a housefly.
• The Fly (1986 remake): overly ambitious scientist gets housefly’s DNA and turns into a big gross fly.
• Sssssss (1973): Crazy scientist turns people into snakes for some unknown reason.
• The Alien franchise (1979-2017): Are not all the monsters in these movies born through a violent Caesarian section that kills the human host and did not Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) give birth to some mixed version of the monster in Alien Resurrection?
• Spiderman franchise (1977-2019): There was a comic book superhero character called The Fly, who had the powers of a fly. That did not catch on, but an equally preposterous idea of a teenager bitten by a radioactive spider turning into a superhero did. Cross-species genetic mixing with no disfiguring, no downside. A juvenile fantasy that has made billions of dollars.
• The Planet of the Apes franchise (1968 TV series-2001-2017, various film versions): Talking apes! Who would have thunk it?! After nine movies over close to 50 years, one would have thought the novelty might have worn thin. But to have the apes reenact as victims the Edmund Pettus Bridge police beatings of the Selma march in 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a bit much.
7. O, yes, the real, honest-to-god true story of how the most popular animal toy came to be.
8. Two Cheers for Zoos, None for Circuses: Ancient Egyptians liked animals, apparently. One of the pharaohs went into battle with his favorite wild beast by his side. They also kept zoos, as noted.
9. And read all about how the London Zoo became the prototype for the modern zoo.
10. P. T. Barnum, believe it or not, planted the seeds for the destruction of his own circus.
11. I guess no cheers for rodeos these days but this might be an interesting place to visit.
14. And the last film of Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe was, you guessed it, about a rodeo.
15. There have been more than a few famous novels about animals and here is one list.
16. Here is my own list of fiction favorites, very incomplete:
• Black Beauty by Anna Sewell (1877)
• The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (1908)
• The Call of the Wild by Jack London (1903)
• White Fang by Jack London (1906)
• The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson (1936)
• Uncle Remus: His Songs and Sayings by Joel Chandler Harris (1881)
• The Story About Ping by Marjorie Flack and Kurt Wiese (1933)
• Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling (1902)
• The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling (1894)
• Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851)
• Jaws by Peter Benchley (1974)
• The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Anderson (1843)
• The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1938)
• The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter (1893, 1901, 1902)
• Old Yeller by Fred Gipson (1956)
• Sounder by William Armstrong (1969)
• The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss (1957)
• The Cat in the Hat Comes Back by Dr. Seuss (1958)
• Winnie the Pooh by A. A Milne (1926)
• The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White (1970)
• Stuart Little by E. B. White (1945)
• Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (1952)
• Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton (1990)
• Lassie Come Home by Eric Knight (1940)
• Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865)
• National Velvet by Enid Bagnold (1935)
• The Black Stallion by Walter Farley (1941)
• Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell (1961)
17. Some notable movies about animals:
• Finding Nemo (2003)
• Free Willy (1993)
• Born Free (1966)
• Gorillas in the Mist (1988): As one critic said, in King Kong the gorilla was nasty and the humans screamed; in this movie, the humans are nasty and the gorillas scream.
• One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961, 1996)
• Lady and the Tramp (1955)
• Bambi (1942): The humans are nasty and the deer heroic.
• The Lion King (1994)
• March of the Penguins (2005)
• Happy Feet (2006): with Savion Glover’s choreography
• Fly Away Home (1996): Watch out for flying bird poo.
• Whale Rider (2002): here is proof that people of color are better at riding whales than crazy old white men like Ahab.
• Bee Movie (2007)
• The Hellstrom Chronicle (1971): One of the best mockumentaries ever made; all about insects inheriting the Earth.
• National Velvet (1944): one of the best sports films ever made; the story of a horse and the girl who loved him.
• The Horse Whisperer (1998): The story of a man and the screwed-up horses that loved him.
18. And who can resist these horror favorites about animals out to kill us when they should be running from us in crazed fear:
• The Birds: Norman Bates is replaced by psycho birds who kill brunettes (Susan Pleshette) and terrorize blondes (Tippi Hedren) in this 1963 Alfred Hitchcock adaptation of a Daphne Du Maurier story.
• Orca: an angry killer whale hunts down the crew that killed its pregnant mate. One of the worst films ever made, and probably the worst film made in 1977. So bad, it’s atrocious.
• Ben: The king rat from Willard returns in this 1972 film, and Michael Jackson sings a love song to him.
• Willard: an alienated, weird young man makes friends with rats who kills people for him; if only poor people could figure out a way to get rats to repair their homes or stoke revolution or push drugs; in the end of this 1971 film, the rats unionized on poor Willard.
• Tarantula: 1955 sci-fi flick about a crazy scientist who makes giant animals for some bizarre reason and a tarantula gets loose; Clint Eastwood plays the jet pilot who kills it with a bomb
• The Giant Gila Monster: a 1959 sci-fi film that features a giant, well, not a Gila monster, but a Mexican beaded lizard, maybe because they work cheaper and the kids who saw the film at Saturday matinees would not know the difference. Cannot remember how the lizard got so big? Probably radiation or maybe it was radiation that killed it
• The Swarm: with bees as the menace, and with a surprising number of A-list actors. It is so bad, you wish the bees had killed more people, including the producer and director of this 1978 film.
• King Kong: the granddaddy of all special effects films in 1976, or any other year; about a big ape, a white woman he loves although he can barely see her, and the Empire State Building. One of the greatest death scenes in all of cinema.
• Godzilla: the original 1954 Japanese film, not the re-edited American version with Raymond Burr, is one of the greatest monster films of all time. It is, in fact, one of the best films ever made (in my humble opinion). A giant lizard, created by atomic radiation, goes on a rampage.
• The Deadly Mantis: a 1957 sci-fi creature feature about a 200-foot long praying mantis loosed from an icy prison and, I guess, very hungry after all those millions of years of suspended animation.
• Gorgo: a 1961 British-American film that is somewhat better than these sort of films usually are. Here we have a mother and child reunion. Baby Gorgo, some big lizard from beneath the sea, is found and exploited by greedy capitalists. (Is there any other kind in movies?) Mama, much bigger and more bad-tempered, goes looking for her lost child and decides to wreck London in the process.
• The Giant Behemoth: Nothing like a redundant title to get fannies in the seats. This 1959 British-American film is about a nuclear-created giant beast, a dinosaur of some sort, that goes after some city, London, I guess, with bad intentions. It is killed with radium, which proves the old adage that he who lives by nuclear fission must die by nuclear fission. Or something like that.
• Them: A true classic of the genre. This 1954 film gives us giant ants on the rampage for, well, anything, but especially sugar. More angry big animals caused by atomic testing who are finally burned to a crisp. Wonderful movie.
• The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms: a 1953 film with Roy Harryhausen special effects about a big dinosaur released from slumber by an atomic explosion that, you guessed it, decides to wreck some representative sample of human civilization: Coney Island!
• The Giant Spider Invasion: a 1975 effort about giant spiders descending on Merrill, Wisconsin and we never hear from the folks up there again.
• It Came From Beneath the Sea: In 1955 a giant octopus is awakened from his rest by a hydrogen bomb and is pretty upset about it. Ray Harryhausen does the special effects and the creature manages to wreck the Golden Gate Bridge by embracing it in its tentacles which it throws on land to haphazard destructive effect. Creatures that can walk on land have this lame monster beat by plenty in the thrills department.
• The Black Scorpion: It is 1957 and giant scorpions threaten Mexico. Can they be stopped in time? Of course.
• Attack of the Giant Leeches: If it is 1959, some atomically-mutated animal must be on the loose. This time it is leeches in the Florida Everglades. ’Nuff said.
• Jaws: I bet more great white sharks were killed by human beings yesterday than great white sharks have killed human beings in the last 50 years. But no matter. Steven Spielberg made a masterpiece film in 1975, and the sequels and knock-offs have made sharks rival Frankenstein’s monster as the greatest menace to mankind.
• Snakes on a Plane (1999): It cannot be all bad if Samuel L. Jackson is in it and snakes do neat stuff like castrate some annoying guy in coach.
• Piranha 3D: In this 2010 film, the gore is substantially increased from the first Piranha film of 1978. Legs, bones and all, are consumed in seconds. Men are castrated in the blink of an eye. Beautiful women emerge from swimming looking as if their bodies had been put through a blender. Do not go near the water. These critters are worse than sharks.
• Sharknado: Suppose bad storms produced waves of great white sharks flying through the air decapitating people as they go by. And the flooded streets are filled with these meanies. If this addled nonsense sounds like fun to you, then the 2013 Sharknado TV series (you knew there had to be sequels to an idea this utterly defaming to sharks) is just what the doctor ordered. And if demented sharks that find ways to chow down on scantily clad young women (and some men too) are your key to cinematic happiness then do not miss out on these:
• Sharkenstein, Leave it to the Nazis to create some monster shark from parts of something dead while sadistically whiling away the time running concentration camps, then the creature gets revived years later and starts earing scantily clad young women.
• Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre, the shark movie and the scantily clad women in prison genre in one bad movie), Ice Sharks (just when you thought it was safe to go trek in the Artic, Great White Sharks burrow through the ice.
• Dam Sharks, sharks that build dams and trap unsuspecting scantily clad young women.
• Dinoshark, Jaws meets Jurassic Park, a marriage that the world could have been spared.
• Sharktopus, this one should be listed under the interbreeding movie genre; a shark and an octopus have a baby that eats scantily clad young women.
• Two-headed Shark Attack, a mutant shark with two heads attacks scantily clad young women.
• Three-headed Shark Attack, a sequel to Two-headed Shark Attack; we breathlessly await Four-headed Shark Attack or Medusa Combs Great White Sharks Out of Her Hair.
• Sand Sharks, just when Bedouin Arabs thought it was safe to walk the desert, sharks appear and attack scantily clad young women.
• Swamp Sharks, might have worked better as Twelve Years a Shark, showing how a flooded plantation is infested with sharks that killed the enslaved Africans and their owners in a frenzy of nihilistic anti-capitalism, but alas a somewhat less scantily clad young woman tries to prevent a bunch of people from being eaten by a Great White Shark during Gator Fest.
• Spring Break Shark Attack, many scantily clad young women are eaten by sharks that, too, are enjoying a spring break.
• Snow Sharks, just when skiers thought it was safe to hit the slopes, sharks begin eating scantily clad young women going downhill.
• Planet of the Sharks, the earth, after global warming works its magic is only a half-percent land and guess what is the only sea life that is left, and …
• Deep Blue Sea, some scientists want to make smarter sharks for some reason and how bad can it be with Samuel L. Jackson and L. L. Cool J as a cook.
I am awaiting such gems as:
• Refrigerator Sharks, just when you thought it was safe to get a stick of butter.
• Lexus Sharks, just when you thought it was safe to buy a luxury car.
• School Bus Sharks, just when you thought it was safe to send the kiddies to school.
• Crabgrass Kingdom Sharks, just when you thought it was safe to mow the lawn.
• Cell Phone Sharks, just when you thought it was safe to use your cell phone.
• Subway Sharks, Great White Sharks begin eating people while they wait for subway trains.
• Racist Cop Sharks, Great White Sharks, disguised as white police officers, start eating unarmed people of color during routine traffic stops in a Blaxploitation masterpiece, and finally …
• Sharks on a Plane, someone lets loose a giant container of sharks on a flooded plane, starring Samuel L. Jackson, natch. And, of course, in all these movies suitable numbers of scantily clad women will be eaten.
If you think what I am proposing is preposterous, remember that Raiders of the Lost Shark, 90210 Shark Attack, and Pscyho Shark are all actual movies.
19. Some television series famously featuring animals that baby boomers will surely remember:
• Gentle Ben (1967-1969): the story of a grizzly bear and the boy who loved him; also a 1967 movie.
• Maya (1967-1968): The story of an elephant in India and the boys who loved him.
• Lassie (1954-1973): The story of a dog and the boy who loved him.
• Daktari (1966-1969): The story of a veterinarian in Africa and the wild animals that loved him.
• My Friend Flicka (1956-1957, reruns 1959-1966): Three Flicka films were made in the 1940s, then the TV series. The story of a horse and the boy who loved him.
• Fury (1955-1960): Truly, the story of a horse and the boy who loved him.
• Mister Ed (1961): A horse is a horse, of course, of course. The story of a talking horse and the man who loved him. Shades of Francis the Talking Mule.
• The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin: The greatest animal actor of the silent era becomes a television icon in the 1950s. The story of a dog and the regiment that loved him. Remembered fondly in that great Hollywood epic, Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976).
• Flipper (1964-1967): A 1963 film becomes a 1964 TV series. The story of a dolphin and the boy who loved him.
• Cowboy in Africa (1967-1968): Based on the 1966 movie, Africa Texas Style, this is the story of a rancher and the wild animals, African boy, and Native American sidekick who loved him.
20. Some famous cartoon animal characters:
• Mickey Mouse
• Donald Duck
• Bugs Bunny
• Chip ‘n’ Dale
• Daffy Duck
• Sylvester the Cat
• Tweetie Pie
• Felix the Cat
• Foghorn Leghorn
• Rocky and Bullwinkle
• Yogi Bear
• Huckleberry Hound
• Crusader Rabbit
• Heckle and Jeckle: two crows who seemed suspiciously like somebody’s idea of black people
• Jiminy Cricket
• Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote
• Oswald the Rabbit
• Tom and Jerry: Jerry danced with Gene Kelly in Anchors Aweigh (1945)
21. And finally some of the most famous depictions of animals in art.