Bob Mondello

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career, "hired to write for every small paper in Washington, D.C., just as it was about to fold," saw that jink broken in 1984, when he came to NPR.

For more than three decades, Mondello has reviewed movies and covered the arts for NPR News, seeing at least 250 films and 100 plays annually, then sharing critiques and commentaries about the most intriguing on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine All Things Considered. In 2005, he conceived and co-produced NPR's eight-part series "American Stages," exploring the history, reach, and accomplishments of the regional theater movement.

Mondello has also written about the arts for such diverse publications as USA Today, The Washington Post, and Preservation Magazine, as well as for commercial and public television stations. And he has been a lead theater critic for Washington City Paper, D.C.'s leading alternative weekly, since 1987.

Before becoming a professional critic, Mondello spent more than a decade in entertainment advertising, working in public relations for a chain of movie theaters, where he learned the ins and outs of the film industry, and for an independent repertory theater, where he reveled in film history.

Asked what NPR pieces he's proudest of, he points to commentaries on silent films – a bit of a trick on radio – and cultural features he's produced from Argentina, where he and his husband have a second home. An avid traveler, Mondello even spends his vacations watching movies and plays in other countries. "I see as many movies in a year," he says. "As most people see in a lifetime."

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Movie Reviews
2:49 pm
Fri May 24, 2013

More Time Together, Though 'Midnight' Looms

Still Talking: After 18 years, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) apparently have plenty left to hash out.
Despina Spyrou Sony Pictures Classics

Originally published on Sat May 25, 2013 3:39 pm

Celine and Jesse are sporting a few physical wrinkles — and working through some unsettling relational ones — in Before Midnight, but that just makes this third installment of their once-dewy romance gratifyingly dissonant.

It's been 18 years since they talked through the night that first time, Julie Delpy's Celine enchanting and occasionally prickly, Ethan Hawke's Jesse determined to charm; their chatter then, as now, scripted but loose enough to feel improvised as captured in long, long takes by Richard Linklater's cameras.

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Movie Reviews
4:14 pm
Sat May 18, 2013

New 'Trek' Goes 'Into Darkness,' But Not Much Deeper

Zachary Quinto as Spock, with Chris Pine as Kirk, in Star Trek: Into Darkness.
Zade Rosenthal Courtesy Paramount Pictures

Originally published on Sat May 18, 2013 5:47 pm

The opening sequence of J.J. Abram's new entry in the Star Trek universe has all the ingredients of the classic franchise.

There's Kirk and his crew bellowing on the bridge, everyone worrying about the prime directive and our favorite Vulcan trapped in a volcano.

OK, I'm in. I may not be a fanboy anymore, but I sure was in my youth, and having these guys in their youths again is just as cool at the outset as it was last time.

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Movie Reviews
2:47 pm
Fri May 10, 2013

Polley's 'Stories': A Family Saga Strikingly Spun

A young Sarah Polley and her actor father, Michael Polley, on a long-ago day; the photo is one of many family memories that surface in Stories We Tell, a superb meditation on dramatizing memory from the director of Away from Her.
Roadside Attractions

Originally published on Sat May 11, 2013 3:58 am

Sarah Polley grew up the fifth of five children in a Canadian theatrical family. Her father, Michael, is a transplanted British actor; her mother, Diane, was an actress and casting director. No wonder Sarah feels her family's narrative has the stuff of drama.

"I'm interested in the way we tell stories about our lives," she says in the film, "about the fact that the truth about the past is often ephemeral and difficult to pin down."

Prophetic words, those.

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Movies
3:09 pm
Thu May 9, 2013

At The Movies, A Swirl Of Style And Substance

Light It Up: Director Baz Luhrmann (right, with stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan on the set of The Great Gatsby) brought a lush visual sensibility to a tale whose tone not everyone thinks of as epic.
Matt Hart Warner Bros. Pictures

Originally published on Tue May 14, 2013 3:41 pm

Here's a movie pitch: A celebrated millionaire, known for public extravagance, lives right on the water in a fabulous mansion. He's smooth but reckless, drives like a maniac, has a powerful enemy and — despite a rep as a playboy — has only one girlfriend, who barely registers on-screen.

You're the producer, so whaddya think? Does his story require lavish digital effects, swooping cameras, a rap soundtrack and the full-on 3-D treatment?

If I tell you his name is Tony Stark, otherwise known as Iron Man, probably yes, right?

What if his name is Jay Gatsby?

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Movies
3:14 pm
Thu May 2, 2013

In 'Iron Man 3,' A Metalhead Gets The Blues

Window Dressing: Tony Stark's ongoing Iron Man research involves more than one suit of self-assembling armor.
Marvel

Originally published on Thu May 2, 2013 4:07 pm

Y'know, I think this bummed-out superhero thing is catching. Depressed Bat-guy, brooding Spider-dude, even the Man of Steel seems existentially troubled in previews of his most recent incarnation.

And smart-alecky Iron Man? He'd appeared inoculated by Tony Stark's reflexive snark from succumbing to a similar ailment — but even he's having anxiety attacks these days. Ever since that Avengers dust-up with those unpleasant aliens last summer, he's evidently been having trouble sleeping.

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Theater
2:59 pm
Thu April 25, 2013

On Broadway, One Runt To Rule Them All

The Broadway musical Matilda put NPR's Bob Mondello in mind of two other big-budget tuners with plucky kids at the center of the action — and got him thinking about what these shows say about their eras.
Joan Marcus

Originally published on Thu April 25, 2013 6:16 pm

Broadway's newest family-friendly musical, Matilda, based on the Roald Dahl novel about a precocious child who proves smarter than all the adults in her life, opened earlier this month to some of the best reviews of the year.

While it's a brand-new show, seeing it jogged my memory — jogged it all the way back to my very first commentary for All Things Considered exactly 29 years ago.

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Movie Reviews
1:26 pm
Wed April 17, 2013

Digging Into Ricky Jay's 'Deceptive' Card Tricks

Veteran magician Ricky Jay reveals much about himself in a new documentary on his life of deception. His card-trick techniques? That may be another story.
Kino Lorber

Originally published on Wed April 17, 2013 6:37 pm

When people talk about movie magic, they rarely mean card tricks. They're talking about digital wizardry and special effects.

But a new documentary called Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay is all about card tricks — and a man who has devoted his life to them.

Card artist Ricky Jay keeps up a constant stream of chatter in his act onstage — everything from gambling poems to stories about The Great Cardini — and it's all very entertaining, but the patter is designed to distract you from what he's doing.

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Movies
2:24 pm
Mon April 15, 2013

On The Big Screen, The Tax Guy Can Be Your Buddy

The paying and collecting of taxes might not be the sexiest plot point in an industry that depends on sizzle. But that doesn't mean revenuers haven't made their mark on screen.
Airyelf iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Mon April 15, 2013 8:02 pm

It's fair to say that the bakery employees who hooted and jeered "tax maaaaaan" when mild-mannered auditor Will Ferrell showed up in Stranger than Fiction were no fans of the Internal Revenue Service. In that, they're like a lot of us, no?

So it's intriguing that Hollywood generally treats tax inspectors as nice guys. On the big screen, it's typically their IRS bosses who are the bad ones.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu April 11, 2013

Earnest '42' Buffs Up A Golden Baseball Moment

Brooklyn Dodgers first baseman Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) acknowledges the crowd in 42.
Warner Bros

Originally published on Fri April 12, 2013 3:20 pm

This Monday, every player in Major League Baseball will wear the same number on his jersey: 42, which was Jackie Robinson's number when, in 1947, he became the first black player in the majors, playing first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Today, baseball celebrates April 15 as Jackie Robinson Day. But 66 years ago, not everyone saw his hiring as cause for celebration — and the earnestly grandiose biopic 42 means to illuminate that history-making moment, in which racial vitriol met its match in a ballplayer who let his talent do the talking.

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Monkey See
3:03 pm
Tue April 2, 2013

Home Video Review: 'Badlands'

When Kit (Martin Sheen) meets young Holly (Sissy Spacek), it's a match made in cinematic heaven. The pairing of the young couple in Badlands was the beginning of prolific careers for both actors.
The Criterion Collection

Originally published on Tue April 2, 2013 7:56 pm

Time now for a home viewing recommendation from our critic Bob Mondello. This week, Bob is intrigued by the 40th anniversary of the film that put Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek and director Terrence Malick on the map — Badlands.

The plot's based on a notorious duo and a real-life 1950s killing spree, but when boy meets girl on-screen in Badlands, they're adorable. She's 15, twirling a baton; he's older, styles himself after James Dean, and is the handsomest guy she's ever met.

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Movie Reviews
3:29 pm
Fri March 29, 2013

A Film So Sumptuous, 'Renoir' Himself Might Have Helped Out

Jean (Vincent Rottiers) assists his ailing father, the artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir (Michel Bouquet), in his studio on the French Riviera.
Samuel Goldwyn Films

Originally published on Fri March 29, 2013 5:55 pm

The year is 1915. A beautiful young woman bicycling through sun-dappled woods passes under an effigy of a German soldier and seems entirely unfazed. World War I is raging elsewhere in Europe, but here on the French Riviera life is serene.

The cyclist, Andree, is on her way to pose for an elderly Impressionist painter, Pierre-Auguste Renoir (Michel Bouquet), whom she somewhat startles by claiming to be an artist herself.

"An artist," wonders the great man.

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Movies
3:23 pm
Wed March 27, 2013

Hollywood's History Of Putting Gay Rights On Trial

Originally published on Wed March 27, 2013 7:55 pm

With the Supreme Court hearing arguments this week on same-sex marriage, I'd like to point out a parallel evolution in what I see as a Hollywood mini-genre: films in which gay characters are either taken to court or seek redress in court for issues involving their sexuality.

Arguably the most famous question ever asked in a courtroom about a line of poetry — "What is the love that dare not speak its name?" — was originally put to playwright Oscar Wilde in 1894 by a British prosecutor. It was an attempt to trap Wilde into admitting to then-illegal homosexual conduct.

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Movie Reviews
4:37 pm
Thu March 21, 2013

'The Croods': 3-D Cartoon Cavemen For The Whole Family

The prehistoric family in The Croods takes a visually stunning but comically tired road trip in the latest outing from DreamWorks Animation.
20th Century Fox

Originally published on Thu March 28, 2013 5:17 pm

The makers of the animated Vikings comedy How to Train Your Dragon have come up with an animated caveman comedy that might as well be titled How to Train Your Father. Instead, they've called it The Croods, and centered it on a cavegirl named Eep (Emma Stone) who has a dad she sees — entirely accurately, let's note — as a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal.

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Movie Reviews
3:18 pm
Thu March 14, 2013

'Ginger & Rosa': Life And Times In Cold War London

Rosa (Alice Englert) and her sometime best friend Ginger (Elle Fanning) are nearly torn apart by the political and social changes of the 1960s.
Nicola Dove A24

Originally published on Mon March 18, 2013 6:19 pm

Two young actresses with substantial Hollywood pedigrees have the title roles in the new film Ginger & Rosa. Ginger is played by Dakota Fanning's sister, Elle, who at 14 already has more than 30 movie credits. Rosa is played by Alice Englert, daughter of Oscar-winning writer-director Jane Campion and star of last month's Beautiful Creatures. Both actresses get a chance to stretch in Ginger & Rosa.

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Movie Reviews
3:00 pm
Thu March 7, 2013

From 'Oz,' A Less Than Magical Prequel

Theodora (Mila Kunis) is the first person the young conjuror Oscar (James Franco) meets when he lands in the mystical, magical Land of Oz.
Walt Disney Pictures

Originally published on Fri March 8, 2013 4:03 pm

Oz the Great and Powerful tells the story of how the Wizard came to Oz, answering a question I suspect no one was asking, but with considerable digital wizardry.

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Movies
1:32 pm
Fri March 1, 2013

Fairy Tales For Grown-Ups? More Are On The Way

Rachel Weisz plays the witch Evanora in director Sam Raimi's upcoming Oz: The Great and Powerful. The film is one of nine upcoming Oz adaptations and tackles more frightening and adult themes than those that came before it.
Walt Disney Pictures

Originally published on Fri March 1, 2013 6:01 pm

Adaptations of fairy tales are everywhere you look. The TV show Once Upon a Time and the police procedural Grimm are in their second seasons. Hansel and his sister Gretel are at the cineplex hunting witches with machine guns. Jack, of beanstalk fame, starts slaying giants today. And those aren't the only bedtime stories that have been redesigned to keep 20-somethings up at night.

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Oscars 2013: The 85th Annual Academy Awards
10:54 am
Fri February 22, 2013

Despite Dark Themes, A Big Oscar Bounce

Despite its dark themes (slavery and the Civil War are hardly feel-good topics), Lincoln, like other Oscar nominees, has done very well at the box office. Disney has spent about $10 million campaigning for the best-picture prize, hoping for a payoff down the line.
DreamWorks

Originally published on Fri February 22, 2013 4:47 pm

How much is a best-picture Oscar worth? Not the statuette — winners are required to sell that back to the Academy for a buck if they want to get rid of it. No, what's the Oscar worth at the box office?

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Monkey See
3:12 pm
Wed February 20, 2013

Home Video Review: 'On The Waterfront'

As dockworker Terry Malloy in Elia Kazan's On the Waterfront, a young Marlon Brando firmly established himself as a leading Hollywood icon.
Criterion Collection

Originally published on Wed February 20, 2013 4:11 pm

Time again for a home-viewing recommendation from NPR movie critic Bob Mondello. Today, Bob suggests a tale of moral crisis — On the Waterfront, in a freshly restored Blu-ray version from Criterion.

Mugs and palookas, racketeers and dockworkers, mob boss Lee J. Cobb running the union with an iron fist, Marlon Brando tripping up its control when Eva Marie Saint urges him to go to the feds and rat out the rats.

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Movie Reviews
3:08 pm
Thu February 14, 2013

Say Yes To 'No': Retro Political Thriller Packs A Timely Punch

Brash ad man Rene Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal) brings a youthful, positive energy to a campaign aimed at ousting a dictator in the political drama No.
Sony Pictures Classics

Originally published on Fri February 15, 2013 2:18 pm

In 1988, Chile's brutal military dictator, Augusto Pinochet, was facing international pressure to legitimize his regime. Confident that the opposition was splintered, and that state-run media could control the political dialogue, his administration agreed to a simple yes-or-no vote on extending his rule.

It was a vote that even Pinochet's opponents expected to go his way — but it didn't, for reasons made both compelling and instructive in Pablo Larrain's rousing Oscar-nominated drama, No.

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Movie Reviews
3:04 pm
Thu February 7, 2013

'Identity Thief': Nearly Two Hours, Stolen

An overextended Sandy (Jason Bateman) must prevent the raunchy Diana (Melissa McCarthy) from continuing to use his identity as a financial crutch in Identity Thief.
Universal Pictures

Originally published on Fri February 8, 2013 5:09 pm

The new road-trip comedy Identity Thief — about a guy who confronts a woman who's wrecking his credit rating — is such a catalog of missed opportunities, it probably makes sense just to list them.

The setup: Sandy Patterson, who works in a Denver financial firm (and is not supposed to be mentally challenged), blithely hands over his Social Security number to a stranger on the phone who says his accounts have been compromised, at which point his accounts get compromised. No tricks, no subterfuge, no laughs — he's just stupid.

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Movie Reviews
3:17 pm
Thu January 31, 2013

In Prison And Among Zombies, Shakespeare's Reflection Shines

In the Romeo and Juliet-inspired Warm Bodies, a zombie known only as R (Nicholas Hoult) falls in love with Julie (Teresa Palmer), who's still human.
Jan Thijs Summit Entertainment

Originally published on Wed February 6, 2013 8:39 am

The Italian art-house film Caesar Must Die and the teen zombie-comedy Warm Bodies do not, at first glance, appear to have much in common. But they share a bit of creative DNA, both being inventive riffs that turn Shakespearean tragedies into something else entirely.

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Monkey See
3:06 pm
Thu January 24, 2013

Home Video Review: 'Buster Keaton: The Ultimate Collection'

Buster Keaton, aka "The Great Stone Face," brought side-splitting comedy to the silent-screen era. Here, he's pictured in 1924's The Navigator.
Kino Lorber

Originally published on Thu January 24, 2013 3:44 pm

Time now for a home-viewing recommendation from NPR movie critic Bob Mondello. A quiet recommendation — because Bob is touting the Ultimate Buster Keaton Collection, a 14-disc set of classic silent comedies.

Silent film had three great clowns. Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp is the one everyone remembers; all-American daredevil Harold Lloyd is the one who made the most money; and Buster Keaton was the genius.

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Monkey See
1:03 pm
Tue January 15, 2013

Home Video Review: 'Slings And Arrows'

Richard (Mark McKinney) and Sanjay (Colm Feore) get up close and personal in the zany backstage comedy Slings and Arrows.
Ken Woroner Acorn Media

Originally published on Fri January 18, 2013 5:16 am

Time now for a home-viewing recommendation from movie critic Bob Mondello. He recently caught an online episode of the Shakespeare-centric comedy Slings and Arrows and says it reminded him how much he liked the whole series.

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Monkey See
2:24 pm
Tue January 1, 2013

Home Video Review: 'Looper'

Joe (Bruce Willis) fights a younger version of himself in Looper.
Alan Markfield Sony Pictures

Originally published on Tue January 8, 2013 12:19 pm

Welcome to a future when time travel has been outlawed, meaning only outlaws like Joe, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, travel through time. Joe's an assassin for a crime syndicate that sends folks it wants erased back from 30 years hence.

Gordon-Levitt's been made up to look like a young Bruce Willis, and when Willis shows up as one of the folks he's supposed to kill — well, that's called closing the loop — and there you have director Rian Johnson's nifty premise.

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Monkey See
2:12 pm
Mon December 31, 2012

Bob Mondello's Best Movies Of 2012

Cousin Ben (Jason Schwartzman), Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) show that nothing can stand in the way of young love in Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom.
Niko Tavernise Focus Features

Originally published on Wed February 20, 2013 10:41 am

A lot of movie box-office records fell in 2012. The comic-book blockbuster The Avengers had the biggest opening weekend in Hollywood history. Skyfall will be the first James Bond film to top $1 billion worldwide. And the box-office year as a whole is easily the movie industry's biggest ever. But what about quality? Perhaps surprisingly, the news is good there, too.

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Movie Reviews
3:58 pm
Tue December 18, 2012

Shedding Grim Light On A 'Dark' Story

CIA operative Joseph Bradley (Kyle Chandler) discusses a sensitive operation with Dan (Jason Clarke).
Jonathan Olley Sony Pictures

Originally published on Wed December 19, 2012 3:43 pm

With the screen pitch-black at the start of Zero Dark Thirty, we hear the confusion and alarm of Sept. 11, 2001: News reports that a plane has hit the World Trade Center, then the voices of a 911 operator reassuring a frightened trade center worker that she'll be OK, though she won't.

When the screen finally brightens, it's for a grim "black site" interrogation half a world away — a nephew of Osama bin Laden (Reda Kateb) strung up from the ceiling, bruised and bloodied, finally cut down only so that he can be waterboarded and stuffed into a tiny crate.

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Movie Reviews
3:25 pm
Thu December 13, 2012

A 'Hobbit,' Off On His Unhurried Journey

Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) takes a fantastic adventure across Middle-earth in Peter Jackson's prequel to his Lord of the Rings trilogy.
James Fisher Warner Bros. Pictures

Originally published on Thu December 13, 2012 6:01 pm

The Hobbit's path to the screen may have started out as tortuous as a trek through the deadly Helcaraxe, filled with detours (Guillermo del Toro was initially going to direct), marked by conflict (New Zealand labor disputes) and strewn with seemingly insurmountable obstacles (so many that the filmmakers threatened to move the shoot to Australia).

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Movies
2:24 pm
Fri December 7, 2012

Hollywood Heights: The Ups, Downs And In-Betweens

Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise at the Writer's Guild Awards in Beverly Hills in 1998.
Ron Wolfson Landov

Originally published on Fri December 7, 2012 9:50 pm

Hollywood can make any actor look imposing by shooting from a low angle or building sets with short door frames. But the fact is that we want our heroes big and our villains bigger, and the average male actor is about the same size as the average American male — roughly 5 foot 9 1/2. And some very "big" stars have been a good deal less than that.

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Monkey See
3:20 pm
Tue December 4, 2012

Home Video Review: 'Lawrence Of Arabia' On Blu-Ray

Peter O'Toole was nominated for an Academy Award for his role as the titular Lawrence of Arabia.
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Originally published on Tue December 4, 2012 4:50 pm

Time now for some home-viewing advice from our movie critic, Bob Mondello. This week, a 50th-anniversary Blu-ray release of the ultimate sand-and-sandals picture: Lawrence of Arabia.

Sand dunes for days, armies astride camels, and 29-year-old newcomer Peter O'Toole as British Army Lt. T.E. Lawrence, leading Bedouin warriors on a charge that would shake the Ottoman empire and shake up moviemaking for decades.

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Movie Reviews
2:34 pm
Tue November 20, 2012

For Pi, A Wonderful 'Life' Finds Its Way To Film

Pi takes in the bioluminescent wonders of the sea.
Twentieth Century Fox

Originally published on Tue November 20, 2012 4:14 pm

When your dad owns a zoo in India, as Pi's dad does, it's perhaps natural to regard animals as your buddies. Cool if you're talking goats and turtles; less cool if the animal you decide you want to pet is a Bengal tiger.

"He's an animal, not a playmate," his terrified father shouts. "Animals have souls," the boy replies gently. "I have seen it in their eyes."

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