Shelter dog Coco steals the show as Sarii in Prey, and reminds us the dog doesn’t need to die for a film to have emotional payoff.

The latest installment in the Predator film franchise, Prey is refreshing in many ways. Audiences get a strong female protagonist, in Comanche hunter Naru (Amber Midthunder), and experience a new take on what easily could have been a repetitive storyline.

Set in the Great Plains of 16th-century North America, Prey has a high kill count, of animals and humans alike. (It is a Predator movie, after all.) It would have been easy to add Naru’s beloved dog, Sarii, to the tally. But in perhaps the most refreshing twist of all, Sarii lives to the end of the movie.

Why Does the Dog (Almost) Always Die?

Tom Holland as Todd Hewitt, with Machee, in Chaos Walking (Lionsgate)
Tom Holland as Todd Hewitt, with Machee, in Chaos Walking (Lionsgate)

Movie-goers are accustomed to falling in love with a sweet dog at the beginning of a film, only to see it be killed by the end. From John Wick to I Am Legend, Hollywood loves to make us cry.

We’ve watched natural endings, weeping with the Grogans during Marley’s eventual passing in Marley and Me. We’ve witnessed violent kills, suffering alongside Tom Holland’s Todd as he watches his beloved Manchee drowned in Chaos Walking.

RELATED: Organization Saves 110 Perfectly Healthy Dogs (and One Cat) From Euthanasia

And even if the main dog survives to the end of the movie, there always seems to be collateral damage. For example, Lassie survives the 2005 remake, but not before her tiny friend Toots is bludgeoned to death by bandits.

These deaths are often so upsetting that viewers want to avoid them entirely. Websites like Does the Dog Die warn if, and how, the dog dies in a film to help viewers avoid heartbreak.

While some deaths are inevitable, it often feels as if a dog’s purpose in a movie is to be killed. Other times, the deaths are positioned to provide pivotal moments of character growth for their human counterparts.

But movies like Prey demonstrate how dogs can help characters grow without being sacrificed to drive the plot forward. If a franchise as violent as Predator can keep its canine alive, surely others can do the same.

The Prey Dog’s Story Is Inspiring, On- and Off-Screen

Coco as Sarii in Prey (20th Century Studios)
Coco as Sarii in Prey (20th Century Studios)

Sarii bravely defends Naru throughout Prey, whether against a grizzly bear or the Predator himself. The dog is a fighter who never gives up on her best friend during their dangerous journey.

In real life, Sarii is played by Coco, a Carolina dog. While Coco’s journey may not have been as perilous as her on-screen counterpart’s, it’s every bit as inspiring.

In 2021, Coco was just a shelter dog living in Fulton County, Georgia. Luckily, director Dan Trachtenberg was so inspired by “Dog” in Mad Max that he decided Prey needed a canine sidekick.

RELATED: Meghan Markle’s Rescue Beagle is a Reminder That We Can Live Our Wildest Dreams

Coco was adopted with her movie role in mind, and originally only played a small part in Prey. However, test audiences loved her so much that her role was expanded, propelling the former shelter dog into stardom.

Of course, going from an animal shelter to a movie set is no small change. Coco wasn’t entirely prepared for the experience.

Midthunder affectionately referred to her co-star as “a bit of a hot mess,” explaining that Coco had a lot of rambunctious energy. However, she also charmed her human co-stars, with Midthunder sharing she was a “delight to have around.”

Coco’s endearing performance easily became a highlight of Prey. In an uplifting turn of events, both Sarii and Coco get to have happy endings.

What Prey’s Sarii Show Us About Movie Dogs

Coco as Sarii and Amber Midthunder as Naru in Prey (20th Century Studios)
Coco as Sarii and Amber Midthunder as Naru in Prey (20th Century Studios)

In the end, Sarii’s survival in Prey doesn’t take away from the emotional weight of the film. While audiences don’t have to live through the pain of watching yet another loyal companion be sacrificed for the story, it doesn’t mean we coast through Prey worry-free.

RELATED: 50 Dog Quotes for You and Your Furry Best Friend

We still get to experience the specific kind of fear you only have for dogs in movies. For some reason, it’s so much more anxiety-inducing to watch a dog fight for its life than any human character.

But the emotional payoff can be so much higher when filmmakers allow the dogs to live. The “dying dog” trope has become so predictable that survival can result in more interesting storylines, too.

Hopefully, Prey is only the beginning of movie trend in which viewers get to watch our favorite furry characters evolve into heroes without being sacrificed for the sake of the plot.  

KEEP READING:

What Is Separation Anxiety in Dogs and How Do You Treat It?