Animal Actors Better Than Human Ones

The great W.C. Fields coined the Hollywood adage "Never work with animals or children." Sound advice, but one that manages to forget the most difficult species in all of show business. Actors. Why in the world would anyone want to work with them? Frankly, animals have no ego, do what they're told for a treat, and at the end of the day, they don't try to steal your lines, or question your choices, or show up late with a hangover. With actors, and children, all bets are off. With animals, if you've got some kibble in your pocket, you're probably going to be all right.

That may be why there are so many movies in which animals give the only performance worth watching. When you're not acting like a diva, it's amazing what you can pull off.

​Tai the Elephant - Larger Than Life

A downward turned thumb used to mean something, by god. So when we tell you that Roger Ebert wasn't a fan of Bill Murray's performance in the 1996 comedy Larger Than Life, just remember that in the '90s, that was the kiss of death. "The energy isn't there," he said. "Murray often chooses to play a laid-back, detached character, but this time he's so detached he's almost absent." Murray may be on the shortlist of greatest comedians ever, but every actor hits a nadir in their career, and this may well be it for the SNL alum.

Happily, the same can't be said of Tai, the lovable elephant actor at the center of the story. Having starred in Operation Dumbo Drop, and been used as a living canvas for the artist Banksy in Exit Through the Gift Shop, Tai's had an enviable career. Still, if you could ask the mammoth mammal, we're betting he would list Larger Than Life as a high point. Well, he'd probably list lying in the sun and being left alone as high points, but this would surely be closely behind. How many actors would give their right tusk to star in a buddy comedy with Peter Venkmen himself?

While there have been some intense controversies about Tai's life in Hollywood, there's no doubt that he's one of the few Murray costars who's ever stolen the screen right out from under him, which is pretty impressive when you consider he weighs 9,200 pounds.

The Dog - Quigley

Of all the movie Quigley's many cast members, like that guy from The Blue Lagoon and that other guy from Revenge of the Nerds, its fluffy Pomeranian star is the only one who should walk away with her head held high, and that's because she most likely has no idea she was ever in the thing. Well, maybe the same could be said of Gary Busey, but that's it.

The story is simple. A rich jerk dies and is sent back to Earth in the form of a lovable family pet. Pretty standard, and yet this movie looks like it was shot over a weekend, using a Hallmark card as a script and a casting director who stopped watching movies in 1983. The one thing it does offer is a rare chance to compare human and dog performances, because the film switches between the two in a conceit that was surely dreamed up by Mr. Busey to work out some deep-seated issues. One second, you're watching an adorable dog begging for food, and the next, you've got Gary on all fours, wearing a dog collar and looking like a guy turning tricks in a dark alley.

When you see the two playing the same part, like an exceptionally freaky Freaky Friday, it quickly becomes clear that the poufy Pomeranian delivers the only believable performance in this train wreck, and that Gary Busey may not have known he was being filmed.

Spud MacKenzie - Bud ads

As strange as it may seem, there was indeed a time when nothing sold beer like the hint of some sweaty, woman on dog action. Yup, back in the '80s, bestiality was the name of the game for the mad men of Madison Avenue, and Spuds MacKenzie owned the genre. Here was a sexy pup who exuded so much charisma, no one seemed to get too caught up in the implications.

So, what dog could convince America that he banged bikini-clad babes by day and chugged subpar suds by night? Because, here's the thing. Dogs don't drink beer. Dogs generally have little romantic success with human females. Not to mention that the dog who played Spuds was a bitch, and we mean that in the literal sense.

Yes, the tail-wagging thespian behind one of the most iconic characters of the '80s was a girl, named Honey Tree Evil Eye. Now that's range. One part Hillary Swank in Boys Don't Cry, one part Ferris Bueller on all fours, this party animal owned every commercial she starred in, without every uttering a single word. Suck that down, Leonardo DiCaprio!

The Bear - Day Of the Animals

What if we told you there was a movie out there that featured a shirtless Leslie Nielsen, driven mad by UV rays, charging at a gruesome grizzly bear like a feral animal? How quickly would that movie shoot to the top of your Netflix queue, or whatever streaming service carried it?

Look, there's a reason Leslie Nielsen made the shift to intentionally comedic performances, and Day of the Animals may just be Exhibit A. While the bear plays a bear with unwavering commitment, Nielsen, portraying a raging rapist, wrestles the animal like a schoolboy at a junior high dance: awkward, unsure, and uncomfortably horny.

It shouldn't be a shock that the bear outshone the future Frank Dreben. She was a star at the peak of her powers, having carried the schlocky horror movie Grizzly and given birth to perhaps the most famous bear in showbiz history, Bart, who starred in everything from The Edge to the 70th Academy Awards. Surely, Nielsen gave it his all here, but this low-budget Jaws knockoff was never going to be his cinematic highpoint. Oh, also, don't call him Shirley.

Crystal the Monkey - Animal Practice

With credits like The Hangover Part II, Community, and Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, Crystal the Monkey has a better career than most Homo sapiens actors. Heck, she starred in her own sitcom, Animal Practice, which netted the primate $12,000 an episode. That's $264,000 a season, people, and we doubt Capuchin monkeys pay much in taxes.

Unfortunately, her Hollywood dreams would be dashed, assuming she had any idea what was happening. The series only lasted nine episodes, because while Crystal was hitting her marks, and nailing her jokes, everyone else behind this lackluster sitcom was in full check cashing mode.

Look, it's hard to blame this one on costar Justin Kirk, who made smarminess lovable on Weeds for eight seasons. The show sported jokes like, "I'm not going to sit around and watch my grandmother's legacy get turned into a zoo." It isn't easy to sell comedy like that, even if you're Ron Popeil. Still, the guy's heart clearly wasn't in it. After a round of promotional interviews with his Capuchin costar, a part of him seemed to die inside. He looked at the monkey on his shoulder and said, "That's the show. You're looking at it. Wouldn't you watch that?" The answer was a resounding no, despite young Crystal's dedication.

The Bulldog - The Magic Puppy

Having played a talking cat in the appropriately titled A Talking Cat!?!, Eric Roberts has shown he's never been afraid to challenge himself. Perhaps that's what led him to step behind the snout of a talking dog, in the family classic, well, family movie, well, family disappointment The Magic Puppy (and sometimes, The Great Halloween Puppy Adventure, presumably, to trick you into buying it twice).

Let's hope this part bought Mr. Roberts a new used motorboat, because while he phoned it in, possibly literally, as the voice of a bulldog puppy with some important lessons to learn, he certainly didn't receive his second Oscar nomination for the effort. And, true, the puppy star at the center of the film's story didn't receive a nod from the Academy either, but he's always been in it for the art. And the sausages. Awards are for sellouts.

The Rabbits - Night of the Lepus

Jaws made you afraid of the water. Cujo made you afraid of your own backyard. With Night of the Lepus, horror took another step forward, by making you afraid of the unafraid-able. Bunnies! It was no easy task, but the ketchup-smeared rabbit cast proved that anything can be scary if you've got a fully funded movie depending on it.

Unlike the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog, these killers weren't playing it for laughs. They were serious. Deadly serious. If you were a hare with a knack for horror, chances are you found your way into this B-movie. There just wasn't that much work for creepy rabbits in the '70s.

Unfortunately, the cast of velveteen victims, which included Janet Leigh and Deforest Kelly, were less committed to the project. Mixing stilted acting with a never-ending slog of high-pitched screams, the humans weren't given much to do, and still failed to do it. While this movie was laughed out of theaters when first released, no one can deny that its lapin stars gave it their all, and then some. Bunnicula can choke on his vegetables. These rabbits were out for blood.

Sivuqaq the Walrus - 50 First Dates

You can argue that Sivuqaq the Walrus was just in it for the fish, but when you hear his backstory, you'll know that this was a walrus with the soul of an artist. His life began in the wild but soon met tragedy. Hunters in Alaska killed his parents when he was just a wee pup. Thankfully, he was rescued, along with his sisters Qiluk, Uquq, and Siku, and he received a second life as a performer. We're pretty sure that's Charlie Chaplin's backstory too.

Surely, this tale of woe informed him as an actor. You can see that pain behind his eye as he makes dumb sex jokes with Adam Sandler. What do you see behind the SNL vet's eyes, besides a pile of cash, and Rob Schneider doing something racist? Look, it doesn't take much to act circles around Mr. Sandler, but Sivuqaq nails his bits with a charm that proved he was the real movie star. And if movies don't work out, he also has a knack for sports reporting.

The Karate Dog - Karate Dog

Chevy Chase finally figured out how to give a good performance again: just don't appear onscreen. After years of heavy lifting, with movies like Vacation and Fletch, Chase realized he could farm out the hard work, and still get paid. If only Dan Harmon had had access to a ninja dog.

Thankfully, the karate-kicking mutt who fronted this ABC Family movie was more than up for the job. Sure, there's some hokey CGI mixed in, but how much martial arts is a dog expected to learn? What the pooch does manage to give is a heartwarming performance in a movie filled with acting vets, like Jon Voight, Pat Morita, Lori Petty, and, um, Simon Rex. Okay, not all of them are heavy hitters, but you can bet all of them were pretty embarrassed to be in a movie called Karate Dog. Well, not our canine lead, who gave it his all, whether it was an action scene, some comedy hijinks, or a little bit of uncomfortable romance.

Yes sir, chances are Chase never even saw this dud, but if he did, he would have to admit there's only one performance worth remembering. And it sure as heck wasn't Jon Voight, who's a long way from the Academy Award here.

Air Bud - Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch

Look, it's not nice to make fun of teenage actors for tying their darndest. These kids grew up with a dream: to make their parents love them by booking parts, and to make enough money that Dad and Mommy stopped fighting all the time. If that's not what Hollywood's about, then who knows what is. But, when you're cast opposite a golden retriever that can play shortstop and do method acting, you really need to up your game.

From what we hear, Air Bud was in character the entire time he was on set. He ate like a dog. Slept like a dog. He only performed for treats. Now that's commitment. Frankly, his teenage costars couldn't have kept up, even if they turned in the most brilliant performances the series had ever seen. And, yeah, they didn't do that. We're not saying they were wooden in the movie, but if the director had used their acting as a baseball bat, he probably could have hit a home run.

The Animals - BeastMaster The Series

Lions! Tigers! Bears! Oh my!

You can't be a Beast Master unless there are beasts around to show who's boss. Daniel Goddard played Dar, the last surviving member of his tribe, who roams the earth looking for his lost love and protecting animals from those who would cause them harm. Unfortunately, he did so much roaming, he never did make it to that acting class he was signed up for. We're not saying Goddard was lousy, but when your strongest skill as an actor is pec flexing, you may not be getting any Critic's Choice Award.

Thankfully, he wasn't the only one on the syndicated show. That menagerie of animals came through, week after week after week, showing him how it was done. If you've ever wanted to see a leopard give the side eye to a particular clunky line of dialogue, this is the show for you. If you've ever wondered what an elephant looked like while thinking about firing its agent, BeastMaster is the only DVD you'll ever need.

In fact, the animals so outclassed the human cast, it's a shame they didn't just take over all aspects of this show. Who wouldn't want to see an episode of BeastMaster written by a cobra, directed by a hawk? Chances are, it couldn't be much worse than what ended up on the screen anyway.