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Fang Alert

Harry Potter's Neos hit the cutting-room floor
Diehard Harry Potter fans can rattle off every particular of J.K. Rowling’s phantasmagorical saga of wizardry and adolescent angst, from the name of the potion that makes the drinker’s endeavors succeed (Felix Felicis) to the Hogwarts school motto (Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus, or “Never tickle a sleeping dragon”).
 
Those true Potterheads also know that in the books, Hogwarts gameskeeper Rubeus Hagrid’s beloved dog Fang is described as an oversized black boarhound, which is technically a Great Dane.
 
But when it came time to cast Fang in the very first “Harry Potter” movie in 2001, Birds & Animals UK in Hertfordshire, United Kingdom, was asked to bring in an assortment of breeds that might fit Fang’s description. They trotted out Rottweilers, Deerhounds, Bullmastiffs, Dobermans and, yes, Danes. But the breed that caught the producers’ eye was the Neapolitan Mastiff.
 
“It was the sheer size of them, and they hadn’t been used in films before,” explains trainer Julie Tottman. And so, with more than a little creative license, Fang was cast as a Neapolitan Mastiff. (Despite his “booming bark,” Fang is described by his own master Hagrid as a “coward” – not Mastino temperament, to be sure, but Neo fanciers aren’t exactly swimming in pop-culture references, so they’ll take what they can get.)
 
One of the Neapolitan Mastiffs used in the earlier Harry Potter films. Photo courtesy Warner Brothers.
 
Fang got some screen time in the early films, when the giant dog accompanied Harry and his friends to the Forbidden Forest. But in subsequent films, his presence dwindled. And indeed, in the penultimate Potter flick, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1,” set for release on November 19, Tottman’s two blue Neos didn’t survive the cutting room. “Because Harry Potter is more about the children, the dogs get minimal scenes,” she says.
 
One of the dogs filmed for this most recent Potter installment was “Monkey,” who Tottman acquired as a 15-month-old rescue, starved down to half his body weight. “He’s one of the best we’ve ever had,” she says. “He has the nature of a Labrador Retriever.”
 
At six years old, Monkey is at retirement age, but he enjoys the film work so much Tottman says she didn’t have the heart to leave him behind and drive off in the van with his canine co-star, 4-year-old “Gunner.”
 
“Gunner was bought as a pet and grew too big, so the people left him to live in a shed,” Tottman remembers. “He was confiscated and ended up at Neo rescue. They contacted me, and I took him on.”
 
Tottman’s company has had a total of seven Neapolitan Mastiffs working on the various Potter films, most of them male rescues like Monkey and Gunner.
 
“The biggest challenge was taking these dogs, which are a bit of an unpredictable breed, and making sure they are bombproof in any situation,” Tottman says. “That took a lot of very careful planning, and it’s certainly completely different than training a Lab or German Shepherd. But once they accept that it’s really good fun, they’re great.”
 
As for the human cast members, the dogs soon endear themselves, with one notable exception. “The slobber’s always a problem,” Tottman admits. “I’m always on set with my tea towel.”
 
Tottman has at least two Neos on set who can be switched out if one gets tired, though admittedly mostly the dogs are called to lie down. Over the eight-month shooting schedule for this film, the dogs were on set for three to four weeks.
 
One of the most demanding scenes from a previous “Potter” film required Hagrid to throw the dog a huge lump of raw steak. “We did take after take, and eventually we had to switch it out to a fake piece of meat,” Tottman says. “I can’t imagine what the mess in the kennel the next day would have been.”
 
As for the Neapolitan Mastiff taking a final bow in the Potter saga, hope is not extinguished: The final film, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” is due out in July 2011.

In the meantime, you can catch a video fix of Fang in the new LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 video game, which features an animated version of the big, gray, floppy-eared dog.
 
“The thing I love about this game is Fang, because he’s animated in such a charming way,” Loz Doyle, the game’s senior producer, said in an interview. “He can climb ladders, he digs, he whimpers. He’s like a real dog. You don’t often get to play as a dog in a game. Especially not a LEGO dog.”
 
And especially not a Neo.
 

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