In a world of widespread normalized oppression of animals, fictional stories of animal resistance can help convey animals' struggle and agency.
Long before there were viral videos of animals escaping or documentaries featuring animal rebels, animals’ resistance has been depicted in fictional works. These stories aid us in imagining animals’ experiences. They help create a holistic understanding of animal resistance alongside the real-life stories, envisioning the setting, the characters, the antagonistic forces, and the animals’ drive for freedom. Fictional stories of animal resistance can envision life through the lenses of other species in the context of their social and political oppression, imagining what they are thinking and feeling, and ultimately helping to amplify animals’ voices.
1. The Plague Dogs by Martin Rosen
The Plague Dogs (1982) is an animated film told from the perspective of two dogs who narrowly escape from a vivisection laboratory and struggle for survival in England’s beautiful and rugged Lake District. The dogs, named Rowf and Snitter, break free through the incinerator chute after someone at the laboratory neglects to fasten the latch on a cage. A massive hunt ensues after a journalist concocts a story that the pair are potential carriers of the bubonic plague. Rowf and Snitter become a human-interest story not so much because of public sympathy, but because of the fear their presence evokes. Based on a book by animal rights activist Richard Adams, the film makes a powerful statement against animal testing, with graphic depictions of its horrors woven into the story. While the grim and graphic film didn’t have the same popularity of Rosen's previous adaptation of Adams’ work, Watership Down, it gained its own cult following and is one of the most well-known tales of animals resisting human oppression.
2. Where Are You Going Deidre? by Violet's Vegan Comics
Inspired by true events, Where Are You Going Deidre? (2013) is a small tale that dreams big. It tells the story of a cow who hides her calf from a farmer who was going to take him away, an everyday practice of the dairy industry. On Oakridge Dairy Farm everyone wants to know the answer to a burning question: where is Deidre going? We learn that Deidre has managed to open the latch of the farm's gate and has hidden something—actually, someone—just beyond in the nearby thicket. When a calf is revealed amongst the brush, the farmer admits that Deidre has hidden her child because she doesn't want him stolen away. After promising never to do this again, the farmer transforms the farm into an animal sanctuary. Children will enjoy the positive message, beautiful illustrations, and captivating rhyming narrative that illuminates animal resistance. Where Are You Going Deidre? can be found online here.
3. Okja by Bong Joon-ho
Determined young Mija leaves her home in the mountains of South Korea and sets out on a rescue mission to save her best friend—a super pig named Okja. Okja has been transported to New York by the nefarious Mirando Corporation, an international bioengineering company with a longstanding legacy of greed and pillaging of the Earth and its inhabitants. Okja (2017) is very compelling and well-paced, with each turn of the plot carrying you along hurriedly through its oft-waning emotional tone that lies in a strange but surprisingly effective mix of dark satire and the more sentimental husk of a children’s adventure. The ensemble cast is excellent overall and full of measured eccentricity. While the clandestine Animal Liberation Front features in the film, the animal liberation actions of both free and captive super pigs comes to the forefront when Okja helps liberate a baby super pig. Storytelling is a powerful way to amplify animals’ voices and Bong Joon-ho has done just that in this powerful animal rights narrative.
4. The Birds by Daphne du Maurier
"Winter has come early" in a seaside village in Cornwall, the setting of Daphne du Maurier’s novella, The Birds (1952). An unusual occurrence coincides with a sudden chill in the air. One day during a lunch break, day laborer Nat Hocken experiences something out of the ordinary when he notices a group of disparate birds circling the skies in an aggressive manner. This is not an inherently unsettling event, but we as the reader become concerned because Nat is. Du Maurier's unsettling and elemental descriptions continue throughout the story. Later, Nat observes an army of birds awaiting their next attack: "What he had thought at first to be the white caps of the waves were gulls. Hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands . . . They rose and fell in the trough of the seas, heads to the wind, like a mighty fleet at anchor, waiting on the tide." We are given a suggestion as to why birds may be attacking when a group of hunters discuss having gulls for breakfast. We also learn that Nat is a veteran, and much of the story is channeling the horror of the aerial raids of World War II. The pervading dread and unease, and the realization that "winter has come early," clearly echoes our perilous world situation over seventy years later.
5. The Secret of NIMH by Don Bluth
The Secret of Nimh (1992), based off a novel of the same name, is rightly celebrated for its beautiful animation and intricate world of compelling story and characters. The central character is a mouse named Mrs. Brisby who sets out on a quest to penetrate a secretive society of rats and obtain their assistance to save her home and children. Through a flashback, we learn that the rat community, known as Nimh, was created in the labs of The National Institute of Mental Health. Genetic engineering tests altered the rats’ DNA, heightening their intelligence and prolonging their lifespan. These changes ultimately worked in their favour, enabling their escape from the laboratory. Mrs. Brisby, who is not genetically altered, shows bravery throughout the story, and effectively facilitates an escape of her own. This unusual film is essentially a children’s movie, the main narrative being reminiscent of a knight’s quest, but the ideas within being well outside of the fantasy realm, and quite horrific. The heaviness of the topic of animal testing (and the barbarous history of psychiatry) give a dark edge to all of the proceedings, but never overwhelm them.
6. Rise of the Planet of the Apes by Rupert Wyatt
One of the most popular artistic endeavors connecting to the theme of animal resistance is the Planet of the Apes film franchise, which is based on Pierre Boulle’s 1963 novel, La Planète des Singes (Monkey Planet). The original 1968 film inspired numerous sequels and tie-ins. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) is among the Hollywood films that looks to reignite the franchise by providing an "origin" story for a fan favorite. In Rise, after an experimental drug gives him increased cognitive abilities, a chimpanzee named Caesar is raised in a human family and grows up to be quite an intelligent young ape, his IQ doubling year to year. After an incident in which Caesar gets physically protective of a family member against a next-door neighbor, he is sent to a dingy facility that is secretly a source for animal test subjects. Here, Caesar rallies the apes together and realizes his place as a leader of the ape rebellion. Caesar leads a resistance that culminates in some highly memorable sequences on the Golden Gate Bridge that have us cheering on the resisters as they swing and swarm to the safety of the Redwood Forest. The story illuminates some of the conditions that real life simians are subjected to and sometimes manage to flee from. The story of an escaped chimpanzee named Moe, for instance, has some remarkable similarities.
7. We3 by Grant Morrison
The central theme of We3 (2005) is a classic one: human hubris in thinking we can harness and control nature, only to learn respect for it the hard way. Grant Morrison’s story of cyborg animals has plenty of action and visual intrigue, but just as much to contemplate in the ideas it explores. In We3, military technology runs amuck in the hands of three domestic companion animals, who are not on a quest for vengeance, but for their own sense of security, which has been taken away by humans. Bandit the dog, Tinker the cat, and Pirate the rabbit are companion animals stolen by military engineers and fitted with armored suits equipped with guns and the ability to fly. When the laboratory decides to decommission the three, a sympathetic trainer sets them free and the three embark on a quest to find "home," the place where they’ll "run no more." We3 has a vivid style which is highly evocative of film. When nothing is killing or exploding, the comic’s attention to detail in regard to colour and texture continue the momentum, with a focused sense of the movement and light through the panels that keeps every frame looking fresh and new. A highly memorable entrance into the animal resistance genre.