A pet is wonderful to have in your life- they will usually love you unconditionally and give you moments of solace with their antics. They become a member of the family, they have personalities that make them unique across all other pets you will ever have and across species. You hate them when they ruin your favourite sofa or poo on your new rug, but only an hour or two later you will love them again and forgive them (unlike with humans with behaviors that lead to the same results). When they die, it’s devastating.
They’re usually nothing like that in comics or movies, and so they become annoying.
In comics or movies (and often in other forms of creative narration), a pet is a device rather than its own character with its own entity within the cast. We encounter them as exposition devices, plot devices, MacGuffins, comic reliefs, but rarely as a proper representation of a pet, realistic or not.
This, however, takes away from all those things we expect pets to do from experience, and thus it undermines our suspension of disbelief. Our awareness will detect that the pet is being used as a crutch for purposes that should have been done by proper storytelling, and that will make the pet annoying because it will attract unwanted attention and throw us out of the movie or the comic.
I am not suggesting that it isn’t possible for a pet to successfully be a plot device or a MacGuffin or an exposition device for the story; what I am saying is that if you decided to use it as such, you must first build it to be a rounded character, with its own personality and behavioral patterns and mannerisms that befits its species.
Unless you build it in the story, don’t give the pet special non-species behaviors, or behaviors that one would expect of a human. Give it instead special behaviors that befit an animal. For example, if you want to show a dog being hostile to a character’s enemies, don’t make it be so spontaneously (unless it is so to ALL strangers, good or not) but only after the dog watches how his/her master interacts with said character. And even then, choose what behavior/interaction it is that triggers the dog’s hostility. Is it aggression on the part of the enemy? Is it fear on the part of the dog’s owner? Don’t make it seem that the dog is telepathically connected to his/her owner, like a megaphone for that character’s inner thoughts or feelings. While you will be achieving the same thing, going the more natural route will make the dog fit in with the rest of the cast, rather than risk it becoming annoying.
The dog in John Wick doesn’t have any special behavior towards John, the main character. It behaves like a puppy- all the initial attachment comes from John himself, and the bonding from the dog’s need to feel proximity and warmth with his owner. They don’t have any interaction more than that, what all of us have had with our puppy or our kitten.
And that is brilliant for what happens to the dog later and how that event is used to not only propel the entire story, but also make the audience invested and rooting for the character until the very end: we identify with John as a new puppy owner, and we expect him to live with it as it grows into a dog, we see how it helps him get through his grief just by its presence and who it represents as a gift. By the time the dog dies, it feels like how we’d feel if our pet had that fate, and the movie has us in its absolute grip.
That is one of the better uses! Look to Disney for the not-as-good.
Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Sept. 16, 2017
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