'Turbo' and 10 More Unlikely Animal Athletes

In Dreamworks' new animated film Turbo, a garden snail that dreams of racing in the Indianapolis 500 gets his chance when a freak accident gives him super speed. And while the premise of the film might seem a little far-fetched, it's certainly not the first – or weirdest – story about a champion athlete of the nonhuman variety.

Before the animated, shell-hauling star of Turbo ever touched a racetrack, a long list of real-world animal actors attempted to make audiences believe dogs, chimpanzees, kangaroos and other animals could win the day in a variety of professional sports.

Here are 10 of the most memorable movies featuring unlikely animal athletes:

Air Bud (1997)

The film that sparked a franchise, Air Bud featured a golden retriever with crazy-good basketball skills. After befriending a lonely kid, the dog goes on to lead his human pal's basketball team to victory in the championship game. While the film went on to spawn a ludicrous amount of sequels and spin-offs, the animal actor who starred in the film was no stranger to the screen. Buddy the dog – who really could dunk basketballs (on a miniature hoop) – had played Comet on the television series Full House for several years before making his big-screen debut.

Air Bud: Spikes Back (2003)

The fifth and final installment of the Air Bud franchise featured the revelation that – in addition to playing basketball, baseball, football and soccer – Buddy could also set, spike and dig with the best human volleyball players. While the lead role was played by a variety of golden retriever dogs this time around (the original Buddy died several years earlier), the cast was rounded out by a talking parrot and a cameo by real-world volleyball star Gabrielle Reese. This film merits a spot on the list simply because of the sport it chose as Buddy's next uncanny ability. After all, it just might be the most successful volleyball movie ever made.

Kung Fu Panda (2008)

Po the Panda finds himself thrust into the hero role after he's named “The Chosen One” and tasked with bringing peace to the world – but first he has to stop the evil kung fu master Tai Lung. Featuring the voices of Jack Black, Ian McShane, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolies and Jackie Chan, this animated film offered no small amount of star power to go along with its Oscar-nominated adventure. In fact, thanks to a sequel and a celebrated television series, the legend of Kung Fu Panda continues to live on!

Bonzo Goes to College (1952)

The sequel to 1951's Bedtime for Bonzo – which cast former U.S. President Ronald Reagan alongside a chimpanzee – took its ape star (and a fresh cast of human actors) to the football field for a gridiron adventure. This time around, the plucky chimp is adopted by the granddaughter of the local college's football coach, who's desperately in need of talented players – so desperate he'd even consider a nonhuman player. (You can probably see where this is going...)

Ed (1996)

Friends actor Matt LeBlanc starred in this film about a minor-league baseball pitcher who befriends a ball-playing chimpanzee. When the two are forced to live together, hilarity – and lots of lowbrow jokes – ensue. The film was nominated for an impressive four “Golden Raspberry” awards, which pretty much makes it royalty in the animal-athlete genre of movies.

Gus (1976)

Not content to let dogs and chimps have all the fun, this Disney classic featured a football-playing mule that single-handedly (hoofedly?) saves a struggling California team. Okay, so the mule mainly just kicks field goals, but it's still a wild sight. Along with its four-legged star, the film also includes a long list of classic comedy actors such as Don Knotts, Tim Conway and Dick Van Patten. But it's the mule everyone's coming to see, of course.

Surf's Up (2007)

This animated adventure made audiences believe a penguin can surf, and featured an impressive cast of voice actors from the hippest corners of Hollywood. Shia LaBeouf played rebel penguin Cody Maverick, whose desire to ride a big wave is hindered by his lack of experience. But that doesn't stop him from trying – thanks to some sage advice from fellow penguin Big Z (Jeff Bridges) and his lady love, Lani (Zooey Deschanel). From the iceberg to the surfboard!

Matilda (1978)

Okay, so this film didn't actually feature a real kangaroo boxing against humans, but it did feature a semicreepy actor in a kangaroo costume pretending to be a real kangaroo, so we'll let it slide. The film follows a small-time scout whose discovery of a female kangaroo with one heck of a punch leads to a series of fights with human boxers – and a few important lessons about life, of course. Almost as disarming as the kangaroo costume is the presence of Hollywood veterans Elliott Gould and Robert Mitchum in the film. It's like Rocky with a kangaroo!

MVP: Most Valuable Primate (2000)

While not as prolific as the Air Bud franchise, the MVP films did manage to spawn a trio of athletic-ape movies that – to their credit – did cover some new ground with the sports in which their animal stars competed. The first entry in the series puts Jack the chimp on ice after his young guardian discovers his pal's knack for hockey. Sure, it's no Slap Shot, but it is a chimp on ice skates, so there's that.

MXP: Most Extreme Primate (2004)

Just in case a hockey-playing chimpanzee wasn't extreme enough for you, the third chapter of the MVP franchise finds Jack the chimp on the slopes, asserting his alpha-primate status on the local snowboarding community. “King of the Slopes,” indeed.

Racing Stripes (2005)

This film about a zebra who desperately wants to be a champion racehorse has a surprisingly impressive cast of voice actors for a live-action, talking-animal movie, and an unlikely hero you can't help but root for – mainly because we just don't see too many zebras in the acting biz these days. Imagine Seabiscuit, but with raunchy, talking flies.

Soccer Dog: The Movie (1999)

Proving that Buddy isn't the only dog who can learn a few new tricks, this 1999 film followed the tried-and-true formula of pairing a lonely new kid in town with a canine pal that teaches him some valuable lessons about growing up while also helping him become better at sports. When the peewee league's championship is on the line, you know where to turn: Soccer Dog.

Honorable Mention: MVP 2: Most Vertical Primate and all the other Air Bud and Air Buddies movies, because why not? Chimps on skateboard and dogs doing, well... everything!

 

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