Adventures

Watch 3 NFB Films Featuring Talking Animals

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Although chimpanzees, bonobos, meerkats, bees, dolphins, sea lions and even mustached bats are said to “communicate” with other members of their species, humans remain to this day the undisputed bosses of language on planet Earth.

It’s nothing personal, nor to celebrate. A cursory glance at the world will convince you this language superiority of ours hasn’t exactly translated, historically, into enlightened action towards other humans, the rest of creation or the environment. Yet and still, while these beasts and winged creatures clap, squawk, waggle dance and echolocate; we’ve developed all sorts of fancy “meta” fields of inquiry such as linguistics, where researchers map every possible aspect of language, and write – like one of my undergrad profs – entire PhD theses on hot topics such as the syntactic behaviour of the relative pronoun that.

If this deep animals-vs.-humans inequality comes as a bummer (wouldn’t playing I spy with my little eye with the family chihuahua be a total riot?), we have the perfect remedy for you.

Here are, for your delight and enjoyment, three 1960s film featuring something we only see in dreams: real, non-cartoon, talking animals.

The Bear and the Mouse (1966)

In this short film, Michael Rubbo, who’s done “serious” films for us on such topics as Fidel Castro, the Vietnam War and Margaret Atwood, explores his frosty side. Inspired by Aesop’s fable The Lion and the Mouse, the film unfolds in the Canadian forest, and features a big brown bear in the role of the lion. There’s some scary parts (Bear catches Mouse and threatens to lunch on it!), some suspenseful parts (can Mouse really save Bear?), inexplicable parts (the “European” and “Native” hunter duo), and ultimately, a very happy ending, in the form of an all-out mice party with lots of dancing, of course. But what really makes this film, like the 2 others included here, is the talking animals. Here, everyone from Bear, to Hawk to Mouse is voiced by the awesome Rubbo, and the results are equal-parts mesmerizing and sidesplitting.

Here’s an excerpt. (To hear the sound, click on the “mute” icon in the upper left corner.)

That Mouse (1967)

In this 14-minute short, our main protagonist is again a mouse – but a very mischievous, bombastic one. This mouse, you see, is white as snow, and for this reason it feels special and superior. It feels like it can go around the forest pulling pranks on everyone and generally being a pain. This mouse wants to be the boss of the woods! This type of behaviour, as you can imagine, can’t fly for long in the orderly world of the woods. Soon, Hawk calls a meeting and the animals devise a plan. But can this mouse be stopped? For That Mouse, Rubbo invited others to help him voice all the animals, but the result is just as delicious. The duck family, stuttering rabbit and exercising turtle are all superb additions to Rubbo’s frankly wonderous animal-voice repertoire.

See for yourself:

Adventures (1968)

At first I hesitated in including this title, because the premise isn’t exactly the same. First, it isn’t Rubbo et al. doing the voices. What we have here, is a little girl and her father narrating the many adventures and encounters of Peter, a little runaway raccoon. While it must be said the dad and daughter team can’t touch Rubbo’s animal voices, the film deserves inclusion if only for Peter’s off-the-charts cuteness and daring. What can’t this baby coon do? Happily, his fluffy goodness prevails, even in the face of terror-inducing zoo escapees like this bad boy:

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To view more talking animal excerpts and other 6-second NFB goodies, follow the National Film Board of Canada on Vine.