What to Watch: Spend National Pet Day With These Sundance Pets

A man (Ryan Reynolds) sits on his couch looking at his cat and dog

                                                                                                                   [Ryan Reynolds stars in The Voices]

By Stephanie Ornelas 

What do Tim Burton and Taika Waititi have in common? They both captivated audiences with their spooky-fun films like The Nightmare Before Christmas and What We Do in the Shadows, and they’ve both directed Sundance-supported projects featuring some seriously awesome pets. But they’re certainly not the only ones. 

Today is National Pet Day, and a lot of us know what it feels like to come home to our pets after a long afternoon. They bring irreplaceable joy that so many find therapeutic. Even those who don’t have pets of their own might agree that seeing an adored animal — whether in person or on the big screen — can help lift our spirits on some of the most challenging days.

If you had a whole day to honor your pet or a pet of a loved one, what would you plan for them? Maybe a trip to the dog beach or park, or an afternoon snuggling up in front of the TV. If you’re planning for the latter today, here’s a list of Sundance pets you can put on your screen, from a tiny horse to a zombie dog to a conniving cat. 

Settle in with your fluffy, feathery, or scaly companion. Here are nine films about pets that hit the screens at the Sundance Film Festival: 

Sparky, Frankenweenie (1986 Sundance Film Festival) 

Tim Burton is one of many beloved directors whose early work was supported by Sundance Institute. Fans might not be aware that the Academy Award–nominated filmmaker and animator’s short Frankenweenie screened at the 1986 Sundance Film Festival. Burton’s short film, the precursor to the 2012 stop-motion film of the same name, is a wacky take on the original Frankenstein tale. In the film, viewers meet a young Victor Frankenstein who brings his pet dog, Sparky, back to life. 

“The film is an affectionate, clever, and creative spoof on ’30s horror films. Fans of cinefantastique will revel in its references, and children and film lovers of all ages will be delighted by this quirky new cult classic,” reads the Festival Program Guide. Check here for viewing options.

Tina, Napoleon Dynamite (2004 Sundance Film Festival)

Jon Heder had audiences cracking up at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival for his performance of Napoleon in Napoleon Dynamite. But his pet Tina, an easygoing white llama famously referred to as a “fat lard,” only added to the hilarious storyline of an awkward Idaho teen who is struggling to fit in. Check here for viewing options.

Alan, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (2011 Sundance Film Festival) 

This film, about a tiny shell (voiced by Jenny Slate) wearing shoes who has hopes of reuniting with its long-lost family, was the first in a series of three short films. And although viewers fell in love with the one-inch tall Marcel, they also met Alan, the pet lint that Marcel adorably walked around on a leash. The short is available to watch on YouTube

Bosco and Mr. Whiskers, The Voices (2014 Sundance Film Festival)

Maybe it’s a good thing that we can’t take advice from our pets. When a factory worker (Ryan Reynolds) gets stood up on a date, he must decide whether to listen to his talking cat and become a killer or follow his dog’s advice to keep striving for normalcy. Check here for viewing options.

Tupac, Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016 Sundance Film Festival)

In Taika Waititi’s film, Ricky (Julian Dennison) was raised as a lover of hip-hop. He was also raised in the foster care system. When he moves to the New Zealand countryside to live with his foster uncle and aunt, he’s given a fresh start and a new dog that he names after his idol: Tupac Shakur. But when a tragedy strikes that threatens Ricky’s new home, he, his uncle (played by Sam Neill), and Tupac go on the run as a national manhunt ensues. Check here for viewing options.

Pop Aye, Pop Aye (2017 Sundance Film Festival) 

How many of us dream of reuniting with a lost pet? This is what architect Thana (Thaneth Warakulnukroh) encounters when he bumps into his long-lost companion on the streets of Bangkok: the elephant he grew up with. Throughout the film, the two embark on a road trip across Thailand in search of their hometown and the farm where they lived on together. This sweet drama took home the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Screenplay at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Check here for viewing options.

Blue, RED DOG: True Blue (2017 Sundance Film Festival)

Audiences fell in love with Blue when RED DOG: True Blue came to the Kids category at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. 

After his father passes away and his mother is placed into a mental hospital, 11-year-old Mick is sent to live with his grandfather in the Australian outback — an environment he’s unfamiliar with. When he discovers a puppy covered in blue paint stranded in a tree, they develop an inseparable and life-changing bond. Check here for viewing options.

Butterscotch, Damsel (2018 Sundance Film Festival)

Imagine traveling across the country with a tiny horse for the love of your life. When Samuel Alabaster (Robert Pattinson), an affluent pioneer, intends to propose to Penelope (Mia Wasikowska), he hires Parson Henry — a drunkard played by David Zellner, who co-directed the film with his brother, Nathan — to officiate it. The two then venture across the American frontier with a miniature horse named Butterscotch, a wedding present for Penelope. Check here for viewing options.

Snowy, Snowy (2021 Sundance Film Festival) 

Every year when he visits his family for Thanksgiving, Alex Wolf Lewis is wowed by the fact that his uncle’s 4-inch pet turtle, Snowy, is still alive. Snowy has lived an isolated life in the family basement for the past 10+ years with minimal sunlight and no companionship other than that of his primary caretaker, Uncle Larry. 

Co-directors Lewis and Kaitlyn Schwalje’s documentary short is both an investigation into animal happiness and an intervention to improve one turtle’s life. Through interviews with Snowy’s veterinarian, the Wolf family, a reptile expert, and an animal psychic, they explore our capacity to understand the animals that live in our homes. Available to watch on YouTube.  

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