New Zealand has a fine tradition of Kiwi canines on screen. Felines, however, can be a little trickier to wrangle when the cameras roll. This collection celebrates our favourite screen cats and dogs – somewhat weighted toward the latter. From Spot to Dog, plus Rastus, Hairy Maclary, Scarface Claw, and much more. We can’t forget “Bugger", a canine that drives or classic series A Dog’s Show – man and his dog (plus sheep) proving a winning formula for Kiwi TV gold in the 1980s. So Sit! Watch. And enjoy a purrfect canine and feline mix...
In the days before 24-hour television, there was Goodnight Kiwi, a short animation from Sam Harvey that bade viewers goodnight once the day's broadcasting ended. Each night the plucky Kiwi shut up shop at the TV station, put out the milk, and caught the lift up to sleep in a satellite dish with The Cat. For a generation of kids, Goodnight Kiwi became a much-loved symbol of staying up well past your bedtime. Viewers never questioned why our nocturnal national icon was going to bed at night, or sharing a bed with a cat. The tune is an arrangement of Māori lullaby 'Hine e Hine'.
In late 2012 Campbell Live showed that dogs could be taught new tricks, when canines Monty and Porter got behind the wheel of a Mini Countryman and took it for a racetrack spin. On 10 December in a "world first" live test drive, Monty went solo and Porter (nearly) drove reporter Tristram Clayton around a bend. The following night saw definitive evidence that dogs can turn corners. The stunt was an SPCA campaign to change perception about the intelligence of rescued canines. Animal wrangler Mark Vette trained the driving dogs, who attracted global media attention.
This excerpt from mid 90s show Newsnight features the extraordinary story of Max Corkill and his motorcycle-riding cat Rastus. After having Rastus dumped on him as a kitten while he was motorcycling around Canada, Max took him along on the road. Quickly becoming comfortable on the bike, Rastus would stand on the handlebars as they drove along. Back in New Zealand, the pair became community favourites, and regularly raised money for the local SPCA. They passed away on 20 January 1998, after being involved in a head-on collision with a drunk driver.
Man. Dog. Sheep. This was an unlikely formula for Kiwi TV gold. A Dog's Show was familiar as a homespun in its long-running Sunday slot. The show featured sheepdog trials from around the country, with commentary provided by a wise, bearded John Gordon. In the final from a 1981 series, four farmers wield sticks and whistles, and put their dogs through their paces to wrangle the "sticky sheep". It's 1981, but the only riots here are ovine. Trivia: the opening tune is a version of the song 'Flowers on the Wall', also used in the film Pulp Fiction.
One shaggy dog, dozens of humans, and a smorgasbord of Kiwi scenery: viewers were glued to the screen for this TV One promotional campaign, which began screening in August 1991. The six-part promo followed a lovable sydney silky poodle cross travelling the country by car, train and paw. En route, roughly 50 Kiwis make blink and you'll miss it appearances: including sporting figures, local townspeople, and 20+ TV personalities (see backgrounder for more info, and clues on who is who). The popular promos were directed by Lee Tamahori, before he made Once Were Warriors.
Based on the chldren's books by Lynley Dodd, this show follows beloved dog Hairy Maclary on his adventures in the neighbourhood. Opening with the theme tune familiar to many Kiwi families, this is Hairy's first screen adventure, introducing his canine mates — Schnitzel von Krumm, Bottomley Potts and Muffin McClay — and his tomcat tormenter: Scarface Claw! Actor Miranda Harcourt narrates, capturing the rhythms of Dodd's prose that have seen the stories sell in the millions since they first appeared in 1983. The 10-part series was animated by the late Euan Frizzell.
This documentary backgrounds the process of turning Murray Ball's comic strip into New Zealand's first animated feature. Who will voice the iconic Dog? Pat Cox, the original producer, stays off-screen; but there are interviews with perfectionist Footrot creator Murray Ball, fellow Manawatu scribe Tom Scott and John Clarke, who argues he narrowly beat Meryl Streep to provide the voice of Wal. Amongst the making of footage, the late Mike Hopkins (who won Oscar glory on Lord of the Rings) lends his feet to the sound effects. Tony Hiles writes about the making of the film here.
In the 90s Spot was an acronym for the Services and Products of Telecom, and also a much loved Australian Jack Russell terrier. He starred in 43 different Telecom commercials made between 1991 and 1998 — many of them on an epic scale and seemingly at risk to his life or limb. Special mention should be made of the size of the Yellow Pages shoot, apparently featuring a warehouse full of chefs, couriers and entertainers — and of Spot’s considerable arsenal of tricks from skateboard riding to orchestra conducting. Spot died in Sydney in 2000 at age 13.
This doco looks at the relationship between dogs and shepherds in Kiwi sheep farming. It covers the history of dog and man, and reveals Dog Show-worthy secrets behind the dogs' training and personalities, from ‘heading dogs' who stare sheep (and geese!) "into submission" to the "loudmouth" ‘huntaways' who drive flocks on vast high country stations. This Swanndri-saturated doco is shot, scored and narrated in an old-fashioned Disney style (shepherds are "the very substance of romance"). As the title states, the canines are the stars.
This ‘best in show' documentary follows three poodle breeders competing for first at the NZ Dog Show. It observes the eccentricity and obsessiveness of the competitive dog world. Controversial at the time for focusing just on standard poodles, such perceived favouritism did not go down well on the dog show circuit. Prize Bitch came from the successful pairing of Jude Callen and Megan Jones, whose documentary Return To Romania won awards. Callen went on to become TVNZ's Senior Documentary Commissioner.
A series of farming mishaps each provoke the laconic comment — “bugger”. This was the formula behind one of NZ’s most iconic advertisements. Made by Saatchis to follow up the beloved Barry Crump/Lloyd Scott Toyota ads, and directed by Tony Williams, it attracted 120 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority (who ruled that “bugger” was unlikely to cause serious offence). The shock value of that word, the role of Hercules the dog, and the performance of the hapless farmer (in the tradition of Dagg and Footrot), made for Kiwi pop culture magic.
This black and white short film (with hardboiled voiceover) follows canine filmmaker Quinn Hud to the dog-eat-dog world of the Cannes Film Festival to sell his latest work. Director Jonathan Ogilvie honed his skills making music videos for Flying Nun bands; and he shot the Super 8 footage for this tale when his short Despondent Divorcee screened at Cannes 1995. Quinn Hud’s 18 second epic features as a film within a film — and the cavalcade of stars alone would warrant watching this witty Tropfest winner (also chosen for competition at Cannes and Telluride).
In this acclaimed comedy series the life of a lawyer goes to the dogs, when his father’s death throws him into Auckland’s low-rent greyhound racing scene. In the second to last episode, Will’s mongrel crew have a new dog, trainer Marty does community service and Will takes on a retail job. Thedownlowconcept production screened late Friday nights on TV3. Stuff television critic Chris Philpott thought it the best scripted comedy New Zealand had produced to date. Hounds won Best Comedy at the 2012 NZ TV Awards.
In this charming clip Look Blue Go Purple show they know how to do video clip clowning around as well as the Flying Nun menfolk. It features the Nun trademark grainy imagery, and a touch of Len Lye-style film scratching. Not surprisingly for a song called 'Cactus Cat', there are lots of shots of cactuses and cats, both real and animated. Assorted early Flying Nun luminaries make guest appearances, including a young Robert Scott. Watch out for the so-not-LA Dunedin take on the handbag dog.
Lion Man Craig Busch, and his unlikely colleagues — African lions and white Bengal tigers — were a ratings and international sales success across three TV seasons. The Lion Man went behind the scenes at his Zion Wildlife Gardens animal park. In this first episode of the Great Southern TV show, Busch talks about his introduction to working with the big cats — and the scars that are part of the job. There's also a peek at the making of an award-winning Sky TV promo that featured his lions. Busch, and the park, were later to be the centre of regular controversy.
Auckland Zoo carnivore keeper Trent Barclay first appeared on screen in Greenstone TV’s long-running The Zoo, where his passion for cats made him a viewer favourite. This spin-off series sees Barclay get up close with lions in South Africa, in their natural environment. The opening episode is a visit to Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve, west of Johannesburg. In the wild he encounters cape buffalo and lions; in enclosures he walks some feisty royal bengal tigers ("it's like taking a mobile meat mincer for a walk") and babysits deceptively cute newborn white lion cubs.
Dogs of all shapes and sizes — from huskies and ridgebacks to Alaskan malamutes and King Charles spaniels — compete in this episode of TVNZ's canine challenge. Encouraged by their unfailingly devoted owners, they display varying degrees of ability and interest in an obstacle course, sprints, fetching and scent tests. Away from the cauldron of competition, presenter Mark Leishman's golden Labrador Dexter — the real star of the series — has his portrait painted and there's home video of the lengths, and heights, one dog will go to for a drink of water.
The Hook twins (Jessica Hansell aka rapper Coco Solid, and Rizvan Tu’itahi) pimp their social media profile in the penultimate episode of Hansell’s animated comedy series about a suburban band with stars in their eyes. They go the cheap route by posting a sensationalist clip of their ex-army dad (Frankie Stevens) freaking out over a kitten (he is kittenphobic), however Kowhai recovers her morals and apologises in a lyrical highpoint of the series: “Oh dad, I’m so sorry/ I threw a baby cat in your face/ Oh dad, I’m so sorry/ I was panderin’ to my fanbase.”
Chic Littlewood’s afterschool show for children featured skits performed by Chic and his puppets to link cartoons and other overseas programming. Chic should be in control — but the real star here is the somewhat wayward Willie McNabb (from a Scottish family of mice courtesy of Auckland theatre doyenne Alma Woods). Chic and Willie are never quite on the same wavelength — and Chic’s Gramps character has even less chance of matching wits with him. Mother McNabb appears briefly — while the apparently ogre-like producer is an ominous but unseen presence.
In 1986 Footrot Flats: The Dog's (Tail) Tale and its theme song ‘Slice of Heaven’ were huge hits in New Zealand and Australia. The adaptation of Murray Ball's beloved Footrot Flats comic strip marked Aotearoa's first animated feature. There were a lot of big questions to answer: Will Wal become an All Black? Will Cooch recover his stolen stag? Will the Dog win your hearts and funny bones? Punters answered at the box office. This John Toon-shot trailer doubled as a promo for the Dave Dobbyn-Herbs song, and smartly leveraged both. Tony Hiles writes about the film's making here.
Since their 1997 debut Horrible Sounds for Children Fatcat & Fishface have produced a self-proclaimed ‘outlaw’ oeuvre of music for kids (and adults), that delights in not always looking at the bright side of life — along the way championing New Zealand birds, shipwrecks and rambunctious sprogs. Inspired by the humour of Milligan, Dahl and the Old Testament (!), the music from the mysterious duo has won a Tui Award, and earned praise from the doyen of NZ children's storytelling, Margaret Mahy. The Listener described it as sounding like, “Tom Waits’ toy cupboard”.
This big, bright cover of British act Blue Mink's plea for multi-racial harmony and a world of "coffee coloured people" was a chart-topper for all female vocal group When the Cat's Away in November 1988. The self-produced video is heavy on 80s fluoro colours and overexposed whites, while the placement of the Cats around a single mic affords them plenty of chances to interact and enjoy each other's company (they're also seen out and about on Karangahape Road, and at a rugby league test). This cat video before cat videos overran the internet includes an actual cat.
Bob Stenhouse worked largely alone to visualise this luminously-animated ode to the "nation of drunkards" (as New Zealand was tagged in the House of Lords in 1838). A shepherd tricks a Mackenzie barman out of a bottle of ‘Hokonui Lightning', but too much pioneer spirit sees him haunted by the devil's daughter. In 1986 Frog was nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Short; later an animation festival in Annecy, France judged it one of the best animated films made that century. A short 'making of' clip at the end offers hints of the hard work behind the film's distinctive look.
Aimed at teaching kids to stay safe and do the best for themselves and their communities, Bryan and Bobby offers a friendly face to the New Zealand Police. In this episode Senior Constable Bryan Ward talks to Bobby, his talking pup partner, about the importance of serial numbers and keeping a record of them. With jokes a plenty, often about Bobby’s insatiable appetite, the show keeps things friendly and accessible. Bryan and Bobby have toured schools to promote the SNAP programme, which allows details of assets to be stored online. Children's TV veteran Suzy Cato produces.
A social cricket match in Cornwall Park needs a third umpire after a bogan's dog swallows the ball in this short film. As the men in white struggle to field the ball, a statistics-obsessed sport crosses absurd boundaries. A line-up of contemporary NZ comedic talent features on the field— plus New Zealand Black Caps cricketers (and 1992 World Cup bowlers) Chris Pringle and Willie Watson. Bradman was written and directed by Peter Tait (actor in classic shorts The Singing Trophy and Kitchen Sink). The film includes classic song ‘Bradman’ by Australian singer Paul Kelly.
New Zealand’s Antarctic presence is still in its infancy as this striking Academy Award-nominated NFU documentary chronicles the six month polar summer of 1963/64. Sled teams pulled by teams of huskies are despatched to explore far flung corners, nothing is too small — or too great — to be analysed by a battery of scientists, and the base at Cape Hallett is resupplied (it suffered a serious fire shortly afterwards). However, all of this activity seems to make little impression on a remarkable polar landscape constantly threatening to reassert itself.
Bitch is a tale of "infidelity among friends" which explores trust and romance, and stars three people and a canine. Isabel (Joanne Simpson) recalls a trio of relationships — one with a man in the middle of discovering he is gay, one with a man who doesn't like the smell of Isabel's pet dog, and the last with her friend Ruth. Creator Fiona Samuel (TV's Marching Girls) intended the short, one of her earliest as a director, to combine two perspectives: one of the world as the main character perceives it, and another as things might appear to the casual observer.
This New Zealand Now edition looks at working dogs. A brief look at show dogs makes way for a Timaru sheep farmer conducting six border collies to round up a mob of ewes. Elsewhere pig dogs bail up a wild boar; rabbit hunters use spaniels to flush their prey; retrievers aid pheasant and duck shooters; and off goes the hare for the greyhound to chase. The attitude to imported species (seen as game rather than as environmental pests) dates the film to an acclimatisation society era, and the close relationship between man and dog provides enduring fascination.
This tale of a girl, her dog and a strange old man sees the tomboyish Daphne gleefully ruining a wedding, before her imagination unleashes monstrous forces. Made under the umbrella of Peter Jackson's company Wingnut Films in the early days of FX maestros Weta, Dirty Creature features contributions from many longtime Jackson cohorts, including Weta's Richard Taylor. Directed and co-written by Grant Campbell (who worked on Bad Taste), the film shares the anarchic, child-like spirit — plus a little of the crimson food colouring — of Jackson's early features.