Dogs are natural born heroes.
Take a breath, cat lovers — we’re not dissing our feline friends just because we’re bestowing the title of “hero” on our canine companions. Dogs have worked alongside humans for millennia — pulling us out of burning buildings and avalanches, and alerting us to seizures and earthquakes moments before they strike — and heroism is written into doggy DNA.
(I’m ride-or-die for my cats Wade Wilson and Vanessa, but I also know that they wouldn’t lift a paw to save me if I was dying and they were in a position to help. They’d wait for me to die and then they’d eat my face. They’re cats. I accept this. I respect them.)
Filmmaker Daniel Ferguson considers dogs’ proclivity for heroism a superpower, and his new OMNIMAX film Superpower Dogs — which recently hit the big screen at Science World — is a celebration of these real-life canine superheroes.
Ferguson and his team carted unwieldy IMAX cameras around the world to film a small but mighty group of courageous dogs as they trained for careers as elite rescue animals. The heroic hounds include Halo, a rookie puppy training to join one of the most elite disaster response teams in America; Henry, an avalanche rescue expert working with the Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog Association; Reef, a Newfoundland lifeguard with the Italian coastguard; Ricochet, a Californian surf legend helping people with special needs; and the Bloodhound brothers Tipper and Tony, who are leading the fight to save endangered species in Africa.
“[Dogs are] the world’s most amazing real-life superheroes,” says Ferguson.
The Montreal filmmaker was initially inspired to deep-dive into the world of four-legged superheroes after intense conversations with his longtime producer, whose hobby is rescuing abandoned dogs wherever they go for film work.
“I love dogs as much as the next person, and we both wanted to make a dog movie, but we make films for IMAX, and we needed an IMAX hook,” Ferguson says.
And that hook came in the form of rescue dogs, whose work is typically conducted in the extreme environments that are well-suited to those larger-than-life IMAX screens.
“I thought, ‘This is perfect, I can combine the whole obsession we have in the culture with superheroes with our love and fascination for dogs,’” he says.
Filming took place over several years, and in that time, Ferguson and his team learned a lot — not only about dogs, but about the unbreakable bond between dogs and humans, and the impact this bond can have on a dog’s ability to be a hero.
“I think every dog has superpowers, but not every dog can be a superhero dog,” says Ferguson. “All dogs have extremely powerful olfactory senses, and we know that all dogs can detect human stress hormones or changes in emotion, but I think it’s a combination of the right human paired with the right dog that makes the difference.”
Superpower Dogsis narrated by someone who knows a thing or two about superheroes. Actor Chris Evans, who played Captain America in the recent spate of Marvel Cinematic Universe blockbusters, provides the voice of Henry the avalanche rescue dog (who, in the conceit of the film, knows all the dogs in the world, and is tasked with telling humans all about them).
“Our producer reached out to Chris and he said yes right away,” says Ferguson. “We couldn’t have asked for a better narrator. Chris has that authority [to voice Henry]. We didn’t want that goofy dog. Chris has a lot of integrity. He’s whip-smart. He’s an impressive guy. He gave us two sessions. We actually recorded a whole session with Henry the dog in studio and Chris was completely taken with him. That guy really loves dogs. He teared up at one sequence and said, ‘Dogs are so freaking cool!’”
Captain America is a dog person, but you don’t have to be a dog person to get something out of Superpower Dogs, according to its director.
“I think for dog people, I want them to come out and look at their dog in a whole new light, to go, ‘Wow, I had no idea.’ I want it to be children’s first window into the natural world, and for people to say, ‘Wow, dogs are communicating with us, what about other species?’
“And honestly, I want the cat people to come, too.”
Superpower Dogsscreens daily at Science World’s OMNIMAX Theatre. Tickets and show times at scienceworld.ca/superpower-dogs.