A dog and its boy

When I was young I wanted to go on an adventure. Being the timid and allergy stricken kid I was, chances were pretty slim I’d make it on my own in the real world. I knew I needed a companion if I wanted to survive. With a faithful pup at my side, we could be like Tintin and Snowy: fighting Nazis, solving mysteries and discovering ancient artifacts.

My family got our first dog when I was 10. I was ecstatic. I would finally have my faithful sidekick. To my surprise, Merlin wasn’t Snowy. Merlin didn’t know any tricks, and he didn’t save me from trouble. He wasn’t particularly brave, either. He came from an abused home and was too afraid to enter the kitchen. The dog was a lounger who showed his bravery by barking at squirrels and redheaded children. Merlin wasn’t the adventuring type, but I loved the chubby little sausage of a dog just the same. Couch life would have to do for us.

Belle and Sebastian, on the other hand, got to live the adventurous life we didn’t. The 2013 film, which shares the name of the two heroes, is the story of Sebastian, a 6-year-old boy living in occupied France during WWII. Without friends or family, he is raised by a surrogate grandfather figure and spends his days roaming the French Alps. Because that’s definitely the best place for a child to spend his free time.

While Nazis harass the villagers, the family’s goats are attacked by some kind of monstrous rabid beast. In his wandering, Sebastian discovers the monster to actually be a wild and misunderstood shaggy sheepdog that he fondly names Belle (because she’s a pretty dog).

In typical child-animal friendship-adventure-film fashion, the two develop a special bond and take to thwarting the occupying force. The Nazis are trying to discover the people responsible for smuggling Jewish exiles into Switzerland. Like Tintin and Snowy, Belle and Sebastian must help the exiles cross treacherous mountain passes in a winter storm and get them to safety.

While the film can be overly sentimental at times, it can’t help but be charming and sincerely sweet. It has all the tropes one would expect from a film about a young boy’s bond with an animal—the young orphan boy is a loner, he befriends a wild or misunderstood animal, the townspeople vilify it, the boy must keep it a secret to protect it and the father figure doesn’t understand. It’s all here in Belle and Sebastian, but it doesn’t seem to matter much.
If anything, Belle and Sebastian is a sentimental look at the ways in which befriending an animal can enrich one’s life.

In my own life, things didn’t play out so dramatically. Merlin died two months ago. We didn’t live through the times Belle and Sebastian did, but I’ll always remember our adventures fondly, even if they were much quieter. Maybe it was because his departure was so recent, but I couldn’t help but remember that tubby little dog of mine while watching the film. Maybe watching Belle and Sebastian will do the same for you.