Deafening Oscar buzz surrounds the silent film The Artist, a period piece juxtaposing one actor's decline against another's rise at the dawn of talkies. Though the flick is predicted to rack up Academy Award nominations, a number of critics are miffed that one of its stand-out performers — Uggie, a 9-year-old Jack Russell terrier who portrays the fallen-from-grace actor's loyal sidekick — has been judged ineligible for an Oscar. While that debate rages on, a related one is emerging: Can dogs really act? Starting with Rin Tin Tin in the late '20s, says Brian Wheeler at BBC News, canines have delivered emotional performances that leave audiences amazed. While some animals clearly owe their acting prowess more to deft trainers than "talent," a select few, Uggie among them, seem to truly grasp the craft. Here, an excerpt:
…There are certain special animals — such as the equine stars in current hit War Horse — who have enough "charisma" and "presence" to be considered actors in their own right, says [Susan] Orlean, author of Rin Tin Tin: The Life and The Legend.
"There are animals who have performed in a way that is dazzling and that really does make you think they understand something beyond their specific training. There is a kind of magic. What it is that they think they are doing I don't know..."