The James Clayton Column: a few alternatives to War Horse

War Pigs? War Totoro? As Spielberg’s War Horse hoofs into cinemas, James comes up with a few alternative battle and animal movie combinations…

Whoa, Joey! Exciting things are ahoof with World War I drama-flick War Horse galloping into theatres. After the performance capture work of The Adventures Of Tintin, Steven Spielberg is back in the saddle directing live-action, getting his hands dirty with real people, real horses and a lot of real mud.

We know that Spielberg is a living legend among filmmakers who excels at making touching friendship tales that tug at your heartstrings, bombard you with spectacle and get you high on adventure. He’s also a dab hand at pulling off period detail and has a proven track record in producing epic war stories.

With myriad memories of E.T., Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List and the Indiana Jones flicks floating about in the background, the story of a young man and his beloved horse separated by a huge historical conflict seems like perfect Spielbergian material. He’s an obvious choice, immediately emerging as the ideal man to adapt Michael Morpurgo’s novel and its subsequent puppet-accentuated stage play to the big screen.

It’s a project of promise, especially when you note that the Master of the Leitmotif and long-time collaborator John Williams is providing the score. Furthermore, alongside the finest equine performers in the industry, War Horse has top British acting talents like Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston, Emily Watson and David Thewlis bringing the human touch.

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In spite of all this, there are naysayers (neigh-sayers?). Spielberg has his critics and for some is a controversial figure and the source of a great amount of upset. (For instance, “E.T. traumatised me as a child!” “He nuked the fridge!” “He infantilised us all, brainwashed us with saccharine, mawkish nostalgia and suckered us into a solipsistic state where we unquestioningly accept Reagan’s American Dream!”)

There’s also a problem in that a great many dirty-minded people are mocking the notion of a love story between boy and horse (I guess there’s a popular subconscious desire to watch bestial pornography). Plus, an alien friendship tale is more imminently exciting than a thoroughbred fable and, to be honest, I personally don’t find horses that interesting or exceptionally appealing. Given the choice, I’d rather go for a walk in the woods with E.T.

In truth, horseys are simply an inferior, unmagical variation of Pegasus and unicorns. As much as I love animals and the natural world, equestrian beasts aren’t right at the top of my favourite creatures list. I’m sure that War Horse will make me feel for the fillies, however, though for others it undoubtedly won’t be the case.

Nevertheless, it’s essential to see features that represent the horror of war and depict the toll it takes on both humans and animals. If you’re not drawn to Spielberg and his horse flick then you’re going to miss out. Fear not if you can’t hack War Horse, though, for I have alternative movie pitches that will put the beasts on the battlefield and provide the profound drama that you require in order to cultivate increased animal empathy. No nags and no Spielberg, here are possible pictures that will entertain you and give you exactly what you need…

War Pigs

It’s a movie adaptation of the classic PlayStation game Hogs Of War which sent comedy anthropomorphic piggies into World War I-era combat. Rik Mayall is back to provide all the voices and the result is a glorious, gleeful blast of national stereotypes animated up into an epic clash between gung ho grunts eager to turn their foes into bacon and claim Saustralia’s diminishing swill reserves.

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War Sheep-Pig

If you’d prefer a live-action porcine picture, Babe 3 (a.k.a. War Sheep-Pig) despatches everyone’s favourite talking Australian shepherd hog into a ravaged wasteland where warlords mercilessly slaughter lambs in the Wool Wars. George Miller gets to combine his piggy pictures with his Mad Max work and Babe gets to go blasting across the outback with a bazooka.

War Chipmunks

It’s high time that the irritatingly indestructible Alvin And The Chipmunks franchise went dark, and this flick sees the squeaky trio drafted and dropped in Afghanistan. How will Alvin, Simon and Theodore cope ‘in the shit’? Will their singing win the battle of hearts and minds? Will al-Qaeda crumble when confronted by the very worst of Western culture?

War Totoro

With Grave Of The Fireflies, Studio Ghibli has already shown that beautiful Japanese anime and war tragedy are compatible. I’d like to see another Ghibli film set in a real life historical conflict, but to ensure it doesn’t get as heartbreakingly depressing as the aforementioned Isao Takahata masterpiece, I reckon Totoro – studio icon and cutesy magic creature who’s conquered the hearts of millions of geeks the globe over – should be dropped into No Man’s Land. He bounces on the Boche and sends Catbus to scoop up the casualties, the Battle of the Somme made so much cheerier by the smile of a furry Japanese monster and his soot spirit friends.

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War Xenomorphs

It’s basically James Cameron remaking Aliens in 3D with cutting edge mo-cap technology, dragging the action to a historical Earth of 1912 where a sympathetic invasive extraterrestrial rescue mission seeks to destroy Skynet superliner Titanic and liberate the captured Alien Queen from the US Marine military-industrial complex.

If Ridley Scott is returning to the Alien series to add new twists to his own legend with Prometheus, then it’s only right that Jim should do the same, only without any subtlety or sophistication whatsoever. Really, I’ll take any excuse to weep over HR Giger monsters, and Cameron will take any excuse to bring out his big guns and play with his big box of digi-tricks.

War Muppets

After the inevitable success of new movie The Muppets, the world will need another feature-length special and, because Jim Henson’s felt stars have never made a war flick, I’d say it’s time for something along the lines of Full Metal Muppets or The Muppets Take Saigon. Kermit finds it’s not easy being a green beret, Animal carpet bombs the Ho Chi Minh trail, Miss Piggy karate chops Vietcong spies and Fozzie Bear is forced to re-enact the most distressing sequences of The Deer Hunter, all soundtracked by an acid-drenched Electric Mayhem band. It’ll be a phenomenon (do do, de-do do).

Coming round to theatrical puppetry, we’ve kind of gone full circle and returned to the roots of War Horse. I’m not especially optimistic about the chance of these pitches, so you’ll have to give Spielberg and Joey a shot. Gee up, then, and let’s have less of the neighsaying.

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