Sunday, April 28, 2013

Idea Garage Sale: Dog Crow

So I'm reading this book called Gifts of the Crow: How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans (John Marzluff and Tony Angell, Free Press, a Division of Simon & Schuster, 2012) and there's all this stuff about brain chemistry and how brains work and synapses and stuff, but there's also stories.

Like the crow that appeared at the University of Montana during the spring semester of 1964. Apparently it had been somebody's pet, because it could gather dogs together en masse by whistling and calling "Here, boy!" It would cruise the neighborhood, lure a bunch of dogs to campus, and then, when class let out, lead them into the rushing hordes of students causing chaos and confusion.

Can you say "Disney movie?" I thought you could.

This incident itself does not make a whole movie, of course. The crow needs a motivation and the chaos needs a goal. Crows do not normally learn to talk in the wild, but often learn human words (which can be applied intelligently and appropriately; corvids who learn to talk are not normally mere mimics) when kept as pets (which is now illegal), so the first thing to figure out is Whose Pet? and What Happened to Him?

The fact that the crow learned to summon dogs indicates that the person who trained the crow also had a dog, who would necessarily be another character. Perhaps the dog needs rescuing from an untenable situation since the death of the owner, and the crow's dog-round-up provides the diversion necessary for his escape?

If you want a serious non-Disney spin and have animal rights questions to explore, the dog round-up could be a cover for the rescue of the dog buddy from an animal laboratory; but I submit that it's very difficult to do that sort of story with sufficient nuance. Lab animals are a necessity of science; without hosts of sacrificial animals, modern medicine would be in a sorry state, and any fictional treatment of the issue that doesn't face up to both that and the ethical questions involving what exactly is necessary and how to tell right from wrong will be inadequate. That could get very difficult very quickly, and be a much harder sell than the merry, rolicking, old-fashioned anthropomorphism of the Disney treatment.

But if it could be start with farce and end with a moral dilemma would be no small accomplishment.

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