What do you look for in a movie starring talking animals? Adorableness? Adventure? A story with unlikely heroes and a whole lotta heart? I’m guessing all of the above.
Considering how long they’ve been a cinema staple, there’s a lot out there to choose from. Some are great, some are not so great, and a few talking animal movies are downright disturbing. And because so many full-length animated features fall under the wide-reaching umbrella of “talking animal movies,” let’s steer clear of classic cartoons and full CGI fests this time.
Here are the best (and worst) talking animal movies, in no particular order.
Babe is “the story of a brave soul” trying to find his destiny. It’s also proof that a good live-action talking animal film is not just achievable, but iconic when done correctly. This lovey-dovey feature by Chris Noonan follows the journey of a livestock pig aspiring to break the mold once made for him, becoming a sheepherder rather than dinner.
Alongside everyone’s favorite little piggy, we meet other lovable characters like Ferdinand, the duck who thinks himself a rooster. But it’s the special relationship Babe forms with the farmer (played by James Cromwell) that becomes the most touching. In a nutshell, it’s all about the power of believing in oneself and defying the odds by becoming a sheepdog if that’s your dream.
Worst: Joe’s Apartment
“Welcome to Joe’s apartment. It’s our apartment, too.” Because this is MTV’s first real movie, it has a special place in my heart, but it isn’t very good. Within the cracks and crevices of this cockroach-infested apartment, anything goes and the critters are calling the shots. It’s a story of learning to… coexist.
In Joe’s Apartment, the cockroaches party, sing, dance, and seem to think they have a say in all of the real tenant’s affairs, including his love life. Overall, it’s amusingly bizarre, intentionally disgusting, and the insect-performed songs are catchy enough. Starring Jerry O’Connell and 30,000 talking bugs, there are a few good laughs with this one, but I also guarantee some very real nightmares.
Best: Homeward Bound
Ready for an animal-packed adventure to remember? This talking-pets-on-a-road-trip movie from 1993 remains a beloved classic for all the right reasons. It’s also a feel-good comedy remake of Disney’s The Incredible Journey from 1963.
It’s narrated mostly by what goes on inside the minds of these animals. As you learn what makes them tick, your heart will likely grow two sizes before you know it. The moral of this talking animal story? Pets do not like to be abandoned, and you can get through anything with good friends.
Cats was supposed to be a CGI-heavy, star-studded spectacle. While it definitely had both of those things going for it, it completely bombed at the box office. I wanted to love Cats in live-action, but I walked away scratching my head. The problem is, some musicals don’t translate seamlessly into film, especially the ones with talking humanoid animals.
Not only did everyone wind up looking next-level ridiculous, the intense and eye-catching graphics were also sloppy at times, leading to numerous movie mistakes. ScreenRant called it “more of a freaky fever dream” than the magical re-imaging of the Broadway classic it should’ve, and could’ve, been.
Best: Who Framed Roger Rabbit
In Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the cartoon world and the real world intertwine and often collide. For the most part, we’re just dealing with one talking animal who lives amongst men in this 1988 classic comedy, but he’s arguably one of the most famous ever drawn.
With a score of 97%, the Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus calls it “an innovative and entertaining film that features a groundbreaking mix of live action and animation, with a touching and original story to boot.” As a child, Roger Rabbit taught me we’re not so different after all, from cartoons or each other.
Worst: The Cat in The Hat
Is it just me… or is there something particularly unsettling about “cat people” in movies? Regardless of why this live-action Dr. Seuss adaptation didn’t work, it definitely didn’t. Mike Myers stars as the storybook trickster in this “magical journey” that becomes demented. Many of the visuals are fun and fantastical, but the only thing more troubling than how the titular character behaves is how he looks.
Seemingly aiming to get “the cat” as close to the children’s book version as possible, they went with some serious prosthetics and a suit made from angora and human hair. Unfortunately, those well-crafted efforts made him “look real” in creepy ways and not cute ones. Plus, where it’s meant to be funny, The Cat in The Hat isn’t. Per Rotten Tomatoes, “Filled with double entendres and potty humor, this Cat falls flat.”
Best: The Adventures of Milo And Otis
Another beloved tale about unlikely friendships, The Adventures of Milo And Otis is a talking pet movie pioneer worth watching. Rated G, this ’80s heart warmer is also as family-friendly as it gets.
Critically acclaimed, the animal-led dramedy has won a highly coveted “most popular film” Japanese Academy award, Film Fare’s award for “Best Film,” and a People’s Choice Award. Not bad for a talking animal movie!
Worst: Howard The Duck
I’m not one to speak ill of Marvel, but Howard The Duck continues to live on in infamy, primarily for how much better it could’ve been. Welcome to Duck World where the anthropomorphic ducks reside. When wise-quacking Howard is launched to Cleveland, Ohio from his home planet, the once unfulfilled man-duck makes new friends, karate chops the bad guys, and tries to figure out “who he really is.”
In another case of live-action adaptations gone wrong, none of this duck-led midlife crisis story was very convincing. The acting was deemed mostly mediocre by critics and sadly, Howard never quite came to life like he needed to for the movie to resonate. Don’t get me wrong, Howard The Duck has its moments, but there’s just not enough of them. With that said, if you’re looking for something as bad as it is 80s nostalgic, start here.
Best: Stuart Little
Loosely based on the 1945 novel of the same name, Stuart Little “is a story for anyone who’s ever had trouble fitting in” and how we all must “learn to stand tall.” Voiced by Michael J. Fox, Stuart Little tells the inspiring tale of an orphaned mouse adopted by a human family. The only thing that prevents him from fully settling in is a cat named Snowbell.
Through his bravery and enduring optimism, Stuart lets nothing stand in the way of living a full and joyous life. From start to finish, it’s funny, warm, fuzzy, and undeniably charming. When it comes to this talking animal sensation, critics and audiences tend to agree: the book version was fantastic and so was the movie. In other words, there’s no wrong place to start.
Worst: A Talking Cat?!
This 2013 independent children’s film might seem like an easy family movie night pick, but not so fast. Even if you’re looking for a cute, low-maintenance cat movie, you’ll likely walk away feeling disappointed. Sure, it has all the makings of a “good-bad movie,” but this comedy about a cat “with the gift of gab” just doesn’t do enough.
One top critic for Rotten Tomatoes wrote, “Filmed with the eye of an exploitation film and the effort of a class project. Surely deserves cult classic status.” Boasting way more lackluster-ness than anything else, it’s not yet been able to achieve such things.
A box office smash and critical success, Paddington continues to be well-received by people of all ages. And why wouldn’t it be? This walking, talking teddy is famously the friendliest bear in all of London.
British-born Ben Whishaw voices Paddington in this light-hearted delight. First pick or not, it’s visually striking and whimsical, with gentle humor and just enough sweetness to make it endearing without becoming nauseating.
Starring Kevin James, Zookeeper isn’t the worst talking animal movie ever made. It’s funny enough, but still. The slapstick-heavy, painfully predictable plot leaves much to be desired. And it’s definitely not for everyone, if anyone.
Per the Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus, “Zookeeper smothers Kevin James with a sodden script and a surfeit of jokes inappropriate for the young viewers who would be intrigued by its juvenile storyline.”
So what do you think? Are animal movies cute or creepy? Vote below and make your opinion known!