Despite being wild and bizarre, 2021 was still a solid year for movies. While it’s customary to close out each year by honoring the best onscreen performances and characters, my question is: Why limit those categories to humans?
Sure, when we think of animal movies, we typically think of them as appearing in children’s movies — this year alone, a giant CGI Clifford haunted the streets of New York, and seemingly every parent imaginable sat through the Paw Patrol movie to their kids’ unfettered glee. I’m neither a kid nor a parent, but I firmly believe that the presence of onscreen animals have very little to do with spurring toy and merch sales; rather, they’re secretly very integral to a film’s appeal.
Cinematically speaking, animals — real, imagined, or otherwise — can represent our ties to the natural world, or emphasize the size and scope of an entirely new world, like Dune‘s iconic sandworms. Similarly, the way humans behave towards non-human creatures can emphasize our best and worst intrinsic qualities. After all, Cruella’Her puppy-sitting habits made her so well-known that she was featured in an image rehabilitation movie. And just like villains can’t use iPhones in movies, I’m pretty sure that nearly every character who befriends a tiny, fuzzy sidekick is one of the good guys.
No matter what your movie tastes are, this year’s onscreen animals deserve a shoutout. These are the top movie creatures for 2021.
Morgan Freemond the Crab
From ‘Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar’
Decider crowned the delightfully bonkers Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar as its No. The film was the No. 1 movie of 2021 and the two friends at its center manage to survive with the help of their beachy friends. In one of the film’s most memorable moments, they encounter a crustacean called Morgan Freemond, whose recognizable voice sounds an awful lot like Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman. While he’s unfortunately not voiced by Freeman himself, watching a crab rattle off one of our best living actors’ iconic roles is a perfect example of Barb & Star‘s offbeat charm.
Where to watch ‘Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar’
Cruella’s Mom Was Killed by the Dalmatians
Remember when Twitter was in an uproar over dalmatians killing Cruella’s (Emma Stone) mom? I know, unfortunately! Like any good villain prequel, the live-action Cruella argues that the infamous 101 Dalmatians baddie isn’t all that bad — look, she even has a tragic backstory now! In a truly wild twist, we find out that this puppy-killer’s disdain for dalmatians began when the evil Baroness’ (Emma Thompson) dogs drove her mother off a cliff during her childhood.
It’s ridiculous, and it certainly doesn’t justify Cruella’s leap into villainy (a story that’s apparently being saved for Cruella 2). But I have to respect the audacity, and hopefully the sequel will lean into the wildness of its predecessor’s ’70s punk rock vibe even more.
Cruella: Where to Watch
Sonny and Cher
From ‘Venom – Let There Be Carnage’
Photo: ©Sony Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection
Venom: Let There Be Carnage is a fun rom-com about Eddie Brock and Venom (Tom Hardy), who are trying to sort out their problems. They now live together in an apartment with Cher (adorably named Sonny) and Brock (Tom Hardy). Venom is not afraid to eat human brains but the alien symbiote doesn’t like the idea of his beloved pets being eaten. It’s a cute representation of how our favorite anti-hero has grown since the first movie, but Venom’s preferences spell trouble for Eddie when a hungry Venom starts acting out during his superhero exploits.
Venom movies are a love story. The duo eventually find a way to work out their differences. They battle an unhinged Woody Harrelson to win, and they tend their miraculously unhatched chickens. Now that Eddie & Venom are ready to enter Marvel Cinematic Universe, I ask that Cher and Sonny join me.
Where to see Venom: Let There Bee Carnage
Godzilla and Kong
From ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’
Warner Bros. Pictures
This year saw the return to the big blockbuster after the 2020 movie year. Godzilla vs. Kong was the first major film to hit theaters in 2021. Because what better way to celebrate the magic and wonder of movies than to see two iconic monsters battling each other on a giant screen?
Legendary’s attempts to make a Hollywood franchise out of classic kaiju characters have been mixed, and I’m not here to pretend that Godzilla vs. Kong measures up to its iconic predecessors. After months of being cooped up, it was great to see our favorite big boys get into it. Maybe they’ll kiss next time!
Where to watch Godzilla vs. Kong
Monchi the Pug
From ‘The Mitchells Vs. The Machines
Photo courtesy of Netflix
Lord and Miller’s latest animated charmer follows the Mitchells, an eccentric family whose road trip to eldest daughter Katie’s (Abbi Jacobson) college orientation is thrown into chaos when our robot overlords decide to seize control of Earth. Each family member’s individual quirks are key to saving the human race, and even their lovably dim-witted pug Monchi has an important role to play. The movie examines the benefits and pitfalls of living online. Monchi is voiced by Doug the Pug, an internet icon.
Where to watch The Mitchells vs. The Machines
Sebastian the Rat and King Shark
From ‘The Suicide Squad.
Photo by Warner Bros.
It’s no secret that The Suicide Squad functions as a soft reboot of 2016’s disastrous Suicide Squad film. Director James Gunn elevates the misadventures and villainous prison crew this time by making you care about these assholes saving our world. You’ll find some furry (and scaly!) friends. friends.
Anyone living in a major metropolitan area can tell you that rats aren’t the most popular creatures around, so rodent enthusiasts will be happy to know that they get a much-needed rebrand courtesy of Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior). This adorable villain, named after Sebastian, can communicate with rats. It’s a gross yet endearing ability that comes in handy when a dangerous mutant starfish begins ravaging a city. Fellow Suicide Squad member King Shark’s (aka Nanaue) deal is simpler — he’s hungry and just wants to make some friends. Really, what’s more relatable than that?
Where to see The Suicide Squad
Ada the Lamb Hybrid
2021 was filled with strange movie babies, including Annette, Titane, and Lamb. Ada, the lamb-human hybrid, is wearing a cute flower crown with a cozy sweater. Lamb is about her birth, which is the catalyst for the conflict between the childless couple who adopted her and the sinister forces that want to return her to the animal realm. While the film falls in line with A24’s well-curated indie horror collection, it manages to stand on its own thanks to its themes of grief and the often-complicated circumstances surrounding adoption.
Where to watch Lamb
Sir Gawain’s Fox Guide
From “The Green Knight”
We would all be better off if we had a handsome fox to help us navigate our way on distant quests. The Green Knight puts a new spin on the classic poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, as King Arthur’s headstrong young nephew Gawain (Dev Patel) sets out to face a mysterious giant who challenged him in Camelot.
While the fox was the subject of a hunt in the original poem, here he acts as both a guide and a representation of Gawain himself. He must learn to use his mind and heart to guide his quest, rather than seeing it as a test for physical strength. The fox’s ambiguous presence in Gawain’s coming-of-age journey is strange yet undeniably captivating, much like The Green Knight itself.
Where to see The Green Knight
Photo by Warner Bros.
The first half of Denis Villeneuve’s big Dune adaptation did the sci-fi classic justice by fully immersing audiences in the desert planet of Arrakis. What better way to get to know a new place than to learn about its fauna? Dune may be concerned with Paul Atreides’ (Timothée Chalamet) fraught hero’s journey, but it’s the critters who nearly steal the show.
There’s the adorable desert mouse (aka Muad’Dib), whose big ears and kangaroo tail make even tortured Paul smile. Arrakis’ native population, the Fremen, admire these little guys for their ability to adapt to the harshest of environments, so it’s only fitting that Muad’Dib eventually becomes Paul’s Fremen name.
Of course, you can’t discuss Dune without mentioning its iconic sandworms. Villeneuve teases the sandworms’ big debut like the shark in Jaws before Shai-Hulud finally towers over Paul and Jessica in all its glory. Does it look like an abomination? Yes. It is still amazing. Absolutely.
Where to watch Dune
The Titular Pig
This year was also marked with what felt like countless one-word, single-syllable film titles: Old Finch, Lamb and Wolf. But in my opinion, the best of those films is easily Pig, a gem of an indie heartbreaker that’s waiting for you on Hulu.
Nichoas Cage plays Rob, a truffle forager from rural Maine who travels all the way to Portland to search for the kidnappers that stole his beloved pig. Cage could easily have made this movie with another wild, crazy performance. The magic of Pig lies in its unexpectedly moving nature. A premise that could’ve easily been rendered flimsy instead becomes a deeply affecting portrait of grief and regret, with an unforgettably raw turn from Cage.
Look at her, pig! Who wouldn’t embark on a Pacific Northwestern odyssey for that sweet, fuzzy hog? This is cinema to me.
Where to watch Pigs