What is it with heartbreaking animals in movies, books, and TV? It’s getting to the point that whenever an animal is introduced into the cast of something I’m watching or reading, I start waiting for the other shoe to drop. Honorable mention goes out to the Staples of Sadness from our childhoods such as: Old Yeller, Bambi’s mom, Old Dan and Little Ann from Where the Red Fern Grows, Mufasa from The Lion King, and Littlefoot’s mom from The Land Before Time. Here in descending order is a list of the top six flashback-inducing animals that messed me up the most. You’re welcome. Grab some tissues. :-)
6.) Hedwig, The Owl Who Loved Her Boy Who Lived – Harry Potter
What did Hedwig ever do besides hoot softly, carry mail, wait patiently to be let free from her cage, and stay by Harry’s side when he needed her most? Besides being a sweet, devoted pet, Hedwig was also symbolic of Harry’s own deliverance from his life with the Dursleys. Hagrid purchased the snowy white owl for Harry’s eleventh birthday after taking Harry away from his cupboard-under-the-stairs existence, and she stayed with her boy until the last book, when she sacrificed her life to save Harry. According to J.K. Rowling, Hedwig was a symbol of Harry’s innocence. Call me crazy, but the poor kid couldn’t have had all that much innocence left at that point anyway! Did she have to kill his owl too? I remember re-reading it, just to make sure it had really happened, and crying all the tears I hadn’t managed to already bawl out over Sirius Black. Thanks, J.K. Rowling. You broke me, lady.
5.) Artax, The Horse Who Sank Into Despair – The Neverending Story
The Swamps of Sadness. A magical swamp that causes those who travel through it to experience intense, soul-killing sadness. Atreyu, the young hero, and his horse/best friend Artax have to get through the swamp to continue their quest. I remember watching this movie as a kid, thinking that something terrible was about to happen because the music had gone all grim and sad, and then it happened. The horse gets bogged down in the swamp, Atreyu begs him, sobbing his eyes out, to try not to die … and me and my brother are staring at the screen in horror. That music kept playing, Atreyu kept trying to save his friend, and the horse sank, literally, into despair. Needless to say, this movie left me suspicious of the motives of future movies involving horses. Oh, my God – did I mention that that music SOUNDS like misery and drowning horses?
4.) Appa, the Kidnapped and Traumatized Sky Bison – Avatar, the Last Airbender
When Aang and Appa were separated, the emotional trauma went both ways. Watching the usually confident, good-humored Aang search for the only friend who had been with him from the beginning was sad enough, but when the episode “Appa’s Lost Days” aired, the separation was shown mostly without words from Appa’s point of view. You see how mistreatment and fear drive the sky bison so far away from his usual affable self that he’s a frightened shadow of the Appa we’ve come to know and love. Fortunately, Appa did not die, but his distress was so great that he warranted high placement on this list anyway. The reunion is enough to wring tears out of a freaking rock. You don’t separate a boy from his bison!
3.) Alexander the Dog/Nina Tucker the Kid – Fullmetal Alchemist
As if poor Ed hadn’t been through enough, what with losing an arm, a leg, and an entire brother (kind of), he and Al meet up with Mad Science McGee (aka Shou Tucker), who has the most adorable little daughter and the sweetest fluffy white dog … that he chooses to fuse together with some mad, mad alchemy of a most inadvisable nature. Alexander didn’t do anything but be fuzzy and awesome and snuggle his kid. Nina was trusting and cute, and loved her Asshat Science Dad so much more than he deserved. Chimera-Dog-Nina is horrifying, sad, and when the wandering extremist Scar comes across her/it, he mercy-kills her/him so fast it makes your head spin. And leaves Ed traumatized by the bloodstained alley. Not acceptable. Nope.
Not okay. No. Nope.
The Earl of Lemongrab decrees this unacceptable. Try to not read that in his voice. :-)
2.) Samantha, Dr. Robert Neville’s dog - I Am Legend
The minute I saw the dog, I was on edge. Every scene that showed the bond between Will Smith’s character and Samantha the dog ripped my heart open a little bit. You don’t build up a dog-character like that without planning to kill it off later. I saw Turner and Hooch! I watched Marley and Me! Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows … so I should have been ready, right? I should have expected to have to watch Will Smith have to kill his beloved Samantha after she was infected by roving zombie/vampire dog things. I might have been ready for it mentally, but it still packed an emotional sucker punch. At least the kid in Old Yeller got to shoot the now-rabid Yeller from a safe distance. Dr. Robert Neville had to choke Samantha to death with his own hands. Good lord.
1.) Seymour, Fry’s Freaking Dog – Futurama
The saddest thing I’ve ever seen on television is the fate of Seymour, Fry’s dog. When Fry was frozen, Seymour waited outside the pizza place for him for twelve years. The montage of Seymour waiting and waiting while that Connie Francis “I Will Wait For You” song plays literally brings me to tears every single time. Seymour gradually ages, then lays down and closes his eyes. In the distant future, Fry is given the opportunity to clone Seymour and decides against it when he finds out that Seymour died at the age of 15. He assumes that Seymour forgot about him and found a new owner. Not true, Fry! He waited for you! The only comparable tale of devotion that I can think of is Rory, the Boy Who Waited from Doctor Who, and he may have waited longer, but at least it wasn’t all for nothing! Dammit, Seymour! You’re a fictional cartoon dog on a show that is mostly a comedy! Why’d you have to go and break my heart? Yes, I realize that Seymour’s fate was altered in later episodes, but that doesn’t lessen the initial impact.
Sara Goodwin has a B.A. in Classical Civilization and an M.A. in Library Science from Indiana University. Once she went on an archaeological dig and found awesome ancient stuff. Sara enjoys a smorgasbord of pan-nerd entertainment such as Renaissance faires, anime conventions, steampunk, and science fiction and fantasy conventions. In her free time, she writes things like fairy tale haiku, fantasy novels, and terrible poetry about being stalked by one-eyed opossums. In her other spare time, she Tweets, Tumbls, and sells nerdware as With a Grain of Salt Designs.
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