With director Ang Lee’s new film Life of Pi hitting theaters today, we thought we’d take a look at some other films where animals have been inspirational.

Life of Pi is based on a fantasy adventure novel by Yann Martel. Pi is an Indian boy from Pondicherry, who explores his issues of spirituality and practicality from an early age. He survives 227 days after a shipwreck while stranded on a boat in the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger. This is director Ang Lee’s first film since filming Taking Woodstock and it’s been said to have been a monumental undertaking.

Its visual effects are being hailed as revolutionary and its story beyond inspirational, as Pi and a Bengal tiger have to first learn to simply coexist and end up having to rely upon one another to survive. Because of this, we thought we’d take a look at some other films where animals have inspired us.

‘Free Willy’

Free Willy was released back in 1993, but it’s just as inspirational as it was nearly 20 years ago. The orca (killer whale) was caught in a whaling net and sold to an amusement park with a shady owner.

The films main character, Jesse, is a 12-year-old boy who has been on the streets since he was abandoned by his mother and is ordered to community service where he has to clean the park where Willy is kept. While there, Willy and Jesse become fast friends and together they go on a journey to build themselves back up and learn to trust others. Jesse finds friendship in the unlikeliest place and he begins to heal the wounds left by his destroyed childhood.

One of the most inspirational scenes was when Jesse motions for Willy to jump over the jetty and he jumps to the open ocean to his freedom. While losing his friend, Jesse has now learned to trust others and finally feels at home. Free Willy was also a smash hit in the early ’90s and went on to gross over $150 million at the box office.

‘Seabiscuit’

In 2003 Tobey McGuire starred in a biographical sports drama based on the non-fiction book Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand. The film was based on the story of a horse and a young man (McGuire) who have to learn to be winners again.

McGuire was the jockey that was much too large and Seabiscuit was the horse that didn’t know how small he was – they were a perfect fit. Taking place during the Great Depression, the film had quite a few somber moments. Jeff Bridges starred as a wealthy businessman who loses his family when his son dies in an awful car accident that alternates the course of his life. Bridges meets Red (McGuire) and the two get together to race Seabiscuit.

Red, blind in one eye due to illegal boxing matches he took part in to make enough money to live, was intelligent but very destructive, due to his family abandoning him when he was a young boy. Bridges later meets up with the then unknown Elizabeth Banks, who becomes his love interest. This great cast teamed up to make one hell of a film and instead of them training Seabiscuit to be a winner again, Biscuit ends up teaching them that anyone can succeed if they’re just given a second chance.

‘King Kong’

Peter Jackson had been dreaming of making a King Kong remake even before he started shooting the first Lord of The Rings film, and when word was out that he was doing a remake, fans were ecstatic. Starring Naomi Watts and one big gorilla, we watch the iconic 1933 story unfold as Watts falls for the unlikely beast.

Although this film was a massive 3 hours and 7 minutes long, most would agree it’s well worth it. Ann Darrow (Watts) takes her chances on a shady director (Jack Black) and a rickety ship because she refuses to take the wrong turn in life, despite the curve balls she’s been thrown. She goes on an adventure to see her dream of becoming a film actress and ends up falling for Kong as he protects her from the elements of Skull island.

King Kong is brought to New York and he longs for his blonde beauty, so he breaks away from his shackles and finds Ann. He could have easily made his way away from the city and possibly have lived, but he had to protect Darrow and it sadly results in his death. The lesson learned in this film is that love is always stronger than greed and we’re always too quick to try and make a buck off of one of the world’s biggest wonders.

‘Ratatouille’

Ratatouille (2007) is a movie about a rat. But not just any rat – a rat that loves to cook. The film follows Remy from his humble beginnings where he has a close call with an angry, curler-wearing, shotgun-wielding old lady, to his realization that he lives in France and has ended up near one of the greatest restaurants in all of Paris.

Remy can’t help what he is, and he’s determined not to let that stop him. Sure, he may be a rodent of the generally unclean and feral variety, but he’s not like the rest of his family and friends. He’s got a nose for good food and taste buds that demand the best. But what really sets him apart is his desire and a drive to achieve his goals, no matter how unrealistic they might be.

Remy teaches us that no goal is unachievable. Think you’ve got it tough? Try being a mouse attempting to convince a kitchen full of professional chefs that you want to feed a peasant dish to a famous food critic. That’s tough. Remy inspires us to find any means possible to do what we love, no matter how strange, how crazy, or how improbable it might seem to everyone else.

‘The Chronicles of Narnia’

Aslan is one of the most respected and awe-inspiring creatures in literary and cinematic history. He appears and disappears in the blink of an eye, only stepping forward when his intervention is absolutely necessary. He stays close to the Pevensies in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005) because he believes that each of them is important and that each of them will have a hand in finally defeating the White Witch.

Aslan teaches us to believe – in something, anything. Ourselves, each other, him, fate. It doesn’t matter what, as long as we trust in something. As long as we have something worth fighting for. Aslan knew that his life was no more important than anyone else’s.

He was willing to give himself up to save a boy who had betrayed the people of Narnia, simply because it was the right thing to do. Throughout the series, Aslan teaches each of the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve that they have both strengths and weaknesses, and tells them that whichever ones they decide to give into is what defines them.

‘Tarzan’

Tarzan (1999) sees its title character orphaned at an incredibly young age. A sympathetic gorilla take him in and raises her as his own. He befriends a few other animals, but he’s generally viewed as an outcast – especially in the eyes of the silverback that leads the gorilla troop.

Tarzan grows into a man, but doesn’t necessarily grow into his place within the group. He’s still a little strange, a little different, and a little bit of an outsider. This is only put into even more perspective when other humans show up in the jungle, searching for the gorillas, and Tarzan finally meets someone that looks like him. But never once throughout the entire movie does Tarzan’s mother see him as an outsider. He is her son, regardless of species.

She teaches us to be patient and understanding of someone’s differences, and to never judge a person by what’s on the outside. She looks past the physical dissimilarities and sees only Tarzan’s heart, which is no different than her own.

Do you plan on seeing ‘Life of Pi’ this weekend?

Let us know in the comments which other films you’ve enjoyed where animals have had inspirational roles.

Co-written with Karen Rought.
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