DOLITTLE AND EBERT: AT THE MOVIES Image

I’d like to tell everyone my favorite joke of all time. Ready?

A man is walking down the street and sees a truck broken down at the side of the road. The truck is refrigerated, and the driver looks distressed and upset. Surrounding the driver is two-dozen penguins. “Hey, buddy,” says the driver, “listen, my rig’s broken down, the tow-truck won’t be around for hours. Can you help me out? Can you take these penguins to the zoo?”

The man shrugs, smiles, and says, “Sure”. And leads the penguins away.

A few hours later, the truck is fixed and the driver is heading out of the city, when he sees the same man walking along the sidewalk, all of the penguins following behind.

“Hey,” says the driver, “I thought you were taking those penguins to the zoo?”

“I did,” says the man. “And we had such a good time there, I decided to take them to the movies.”

See, when I was ten years old, that joke would make me laugh for hours. Even now, I’m wiping a tear away as I type. I think we should take penguins to movies. Have you ever gone to the zoo and shined a flashlight over the heads of the penguins? All the flightless birds will line up and watch the spot in unison. You can make them look left! Look right! Play “Star Trek” with them – have them llleeeeaaaannn to the left, llleeeeaaaannn to the right! I once saw a piece on National Geographic where a group of rock penguins watched a plane fly overhead. Simultaneously, the birds watched as the plane flew directly over them, and like a giant row of dominoes, all of them tumbled over backwards. It was the greatest single viewing moment of my life.

Can you imagine the fun you could have taking penguins to something like Attack of the Clones? Think of the pod-racing scene. You’d have penguins spilling into the aisles! It would be incredible. Far more entertaining than the movie itself.

Animals would really spice up moviegoing, particularly these days. Yes, Hollywood has always been an entertainment “machine”, but lately, we’re seeing through the cracks. And I don’t think movies are being made for humans any more. The movie moguls just haven’t figured out which animals to pitch to yet.

So let’s give it some thought. Right off the bat, dogs come to mind. Dogs are easy to please, sort of like the white male, 15-30 demographic. Throw up something flashy and noisy, they’re in heaven. Granted, not all dogs like all things. My golden retriever sat through American Nightmare with me, but I couldn’t really tell if he was enjoying the performances, or if Debbie Rochon’s voice was hitting a favorable pitch. (Oh, don’t look at me like that. You know very well that dogs watch television. And during a Seduction Cinema video, they lick themselves just like you!)

But what self-respecting dog will sit through something with Julia Roberts in it? You couldn’t drag a dog to see Notting Hill, or “Look at me! Look at me!” whatever it’s called. No, for that, I would suggest a bird. Parrots are cool, but expensive. It would be much easier to go out and get a robin’s nest. Leave the nest and the baby birds out at the concession stand, while you and the momma robin watch Julia make those Mr. Ed facial expressions that she calls acting. Make sure you feed the momma robin frequently. That way, when she is suddenly overcome by the urge to vomit, she can fly out to the lobby and feed her chicks, while you remain inside the theater. Envious.

Most of today’s horror movies aren’t made with scares in mind. Or plot, characterization, blood, or any amount of entertainment value whatsoever. I would recommend taking a horse to see the latest big studio production “Who Cares What You Did Last Summer”? Horses are very easy to frighten. Go into a barn sometime and pop a paper bag in front of a horse. The animal will rear up, whinny in fear, kick you in the head and give you permanent brain damage. Which is also what happens if you mention Freddie Prinze, Jr. to anyone over nineteen. Horses, however, are the only creatures on the planet that would be frightened by Darkness Falls.

If you can’t get your hands on a horse (which is another type of movie in and of itself), maybe a chinchilla would be more to your liking. Chinchillas are tiny, puffy rodents that spend much of their lives quaking in terror. Sort of like round, furry, neurotic marshmallows. A friend of mine had a chinchilla and one day I dropped my keys next to its cage. I swear to god, the animal jumped up and clutched it’s chest, leaned against the bars and panted until I left, looking like an overgrown mouse doing an impression of Redd Foxx. A chinchilla would be horrified during They.

Now, for historical dramas, my first instinct was to take a turtle. But turtles can live for hundreds of years, and I wouldn’t want to sit through The Musketeer and listen to “that’s not how it happened” ever five seconds. So, instead, I decided that a meerkat would be the perfect companion for this type of feature, if only because meerkat’s look like they’re interested in everything. They stand up on their hind legs and stare intently at…well, leaves, rocks, bugs, other meerkats, etc. During a Merchant Ivory film, you might actually hear the meerkat thinking, “Oh, yes, very interesting. So that’s what life was like during that specific three-month period of Edwardian rule. Fascinating.” You, however, are trying to gnaw through your leg to escape.

Every genre should have its animal mascot. Make movie nights a family outing again. Take your cat to the next David Arquette feature. You can both sleep right through it, purring happily away. Which isn’t nearly as funny as the penguin thing, but at least you’ll get some rest.

The one thing I wouldn’t recommend, however, is taking any of your major predators to the movies. They’re far too critical. You wouldn’t want to get mauled at a test screening, would you? I’d love to see the headline, though: “Bear eats Jerry Bruckheimer; gives Gone In 60 Seconds one-and-a-half stars.”

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