Monroe County man’s oxen featured in National Lampoon's ‘Vacation’ movie

SMARR -- Some residents of Monroe County are prominently featured in a new movie that opened nationwide Wednesday.

These stars, however, aren’t living the high life. They stay in a barn at Chris Davison’s farm.

His champion oxen are more than background scenery in “Vacation,” the latest in the National Lampoon series made by Warner Brothers. One of the oxen, Bright, even has a name in the film -- Sebastian.

The characters are at a farm when Bright wanders up close, and they begin talking about him. That was one of the trickiest scenes, which was pulled off with Davison lying flat on the ground, out of the camera’s view, and pulling Bright along with a cord. The cord was later edited out of the scene.

Another of Davison’s oxen, Chub, is killed in “Vacation” in a rather graphic manner. But, of course, no animals were harmed in the making of the film.

That scene didn’t bother Davison when he saw the movie for the first time during a screening Tuesday night. He thought the scene and the movie itself were actually pretty funny, and his animals were featured more than he expected.

“We were surprised they used as much footage as they did,” he said.

It’s not that his oxen can do elaborate tricks, he said, but they are extremely well- mannered, and that’s what was most important to the movie makers. What film directors don’t want is a 1,500-pound animal running amok on their set.

His oxen love bread, and that plays a role in what they do in the movie.

“There’s really not much training to the actual scene of the movie, as much as it is that we are just playing off on the things that the animals naturally do,” he said as he fed Bright some bread at his farm Wednesday.

One of the movie people asked him what he could make the oxen do.

“I said ‘We can’t make them do anything, but we can get them to do things that they want to do,’’’ he said. “Animals will do a lot of things for food, and it’s amazing what you can get them to do with bread, molasses and strawberry jam.”

Because the oxen are not native of hot weather climates, he keeps them in a barn during the day where fans are blowing. At night, he lets them roam.

The primary function of Davison’s farm had been to raise miniature Clydesdale horses. He started using oxen because he doesn’t use a tractor. The oxen do various jobs, including pulling a manure spreader and dragging logs out of the woods.

His oxen Bright and Lion are a champion team in pulling competitions, but that’s not what got him the notice of movie makers. A friend told Greg Tresan at Animal Casting Atlanta that Davison’s oxen are extremely calm. That led to some requests to use them in TV shows and films, mostly as background scenery. “Vacation” was the first film that prominently featured his animals.

Tresan said the makers of “Vacation” were very happy with Davison’s animals.

“His oxen are very easy to work with,” said Tresan, a coordinator between filmmakers and animal trainers across the country. “We had a lot of fun making that movie.”

Tresan also noted that there was an American Humane Society representative on the “Vacation” set to ensure all the animals used were treated well.

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.