Let’s take this man-versus-pets genre to the next level

Photo: The ‘Planet of the Apes’ franchise continues with ‘War for the Planet of the Apes,’ but what if the concept were expanded to pets?

By T.T. Stern-Enzi

OK, I can already hear you starting to argue with me over the idea of this film column. “Planet of the Apes” and the seemingly endless run of sequels, remakes, and reboots (of course, counting the latest “War For the Planet of the Apes” from Matt Reeves) do not actually feature apes as pets, per se. But what are lab test subjects, if not caged and carefully tended domesticated pawns? That to me—an admitted anti-pet guy—sounds like pethood.

Which means I’ve been down for the cause of Caesar (a motion-captured Andy Serkis), the genetically modified ape who winds up with increased intelligence, to the point of being able to master human speech and eventually unite his brethren to rise up against humanity. I love the delicious irony that the narrative results in the apes taking on the negative excesses of Man’s civilized nature, because we’re too literal-minded to consider that animals might organize themselves in some other fashion.

It’s this kind of narrow thinking that would render any animal uprising in sadly similar fashion. Imagine a “Planet of the Dogs” with everyone’s favorite canine Benji at the helm, after he gets injected with hormones or DNA strands that turn him into a cute, furry wunderkind capable of genius-level advances while controlling his natural urge to sniff around the neighborhood strays.

Within the classic franchise trilogy format so clearly laid out in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” from Rupert Wyatt, then maintained in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and superbly concluded in “War For the Planet of the Apes” by Reeves, the dog version would track the progression from lovable pup to a warrior willing and able to squelch rebellion within the ranks (say, from a wild wolf faction with voice work from Idris Elba) before reaching its peak with a pitched battle between canines and humans. There’s an unsettling reality for humans to confront in this shift from apes to dogs, because a dog uprising could certainly draw parallels to slavery.

I think the point of any such narrative, no matter the animal protagonist featured in the mix, is an investigation into the how’s and why’s of peaceful co-existence. We’ve never truly been able to achieve this goal within our own species, and these mythic animal kingdom match-ups do little to prove that there is a chance for us to learn from interspecies engagements.

Yet, as soon as it seems I have succumbed to hopelessness in the face of this idea, a film like “Kedi,” which played in regional theatres earlier this year, arrives to offer a genuine and quite moving sense of possibility. Ceyda Torun’s documentary takes audiences to Istanbul and, rather than focus on its human inhabitants, spends time wandering its streets from the perspective of a population of stray domestic cats. The very notion of calling these felines “stray domestics” sets up an obvious oxymoron, but what emerges is a fascinating look at a truly complex relationship dynamic between these two communities.

Unlike scenarios where animals achieve an almost sacred status, what happens in Istanbul seems based on utopian ideals. Mutual respect allows for the cats to live their own distinct lives (with their own peculiar personalities on full display) while they receive, not fawning love and attention, but care and consideration as would be afforded to any human citizen. This is where the Rights of Man are extended equally beyond the human race (at least one crucial step at a time).

“Kedi” is special and worth paying attention to because this understanding did not arise from exploitation and the inevitable call to arms. In this one case, humanity figured out how to do the right thing. If only we spent more time watching and tracking stories like this, then maybe “The Planet of the (_______)” would finally be able to exist as a quaint fantasy divorced from any kind of allegorical framework.

Now that’s revolutionary.

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T.T. Stern-Enzi
Reach DCP Film Critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com and visit his blog for additional film reviews at TerrenceTodd.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @ttsternenzi.

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