This Holiday’s Animal-Friendly Flicks

The following article was written by Tracy Reiman, PETA’s executive vice president and the proud mom of 8-year-old Jack.

After the presents are opened, the goodies are consumed, and the sugar high has kids bouncing off the walls, many families will head to the multiplex to settle down for a movie. My son, Jack, has his heart set on seeing The Adventures of Tintin, which is a movie I know our whole family will enjoy.

And you know, it’s easy to squeeze in an ethics lesson even in the middle of the holidays. A simple yet meaningful way to get children involved in helping and appreciating animals is by skipping movies that use live animals as actors—like We Bought a Zoo—and buying tickets to animal- and family-friendly flicks instead.

Most kids would be upset to learn that animals used in film productions suffer on and off the set. Young animals are torn away from their mothers as infants and subjected to abusive training, and they’re kept in filthy, cramped cages. Life for these little ones will never be the same. Instead of being nurtured and protected, primates, tigers, bears, and lions are subjected to beatings and food deprivation and are shocked with electric prods in order to get them to obey and perform tricks on command.

“[T]o continue to use wild animals for entertainment denigrates a child’s development of humane attitudes because it does not convey an understanding of the needs of another species. If we were to treat wild animals with dignity and respect their true natures, we would be teaching empathy and compassion for all living beings to our children ….”

—Karen Schaefer, Ph.D., Director, Counseling Center, New Mexico State University

Parents, don’t be reassured by the “no animals were harmed” disclaimer. The presence of American Humane Association (AHA) representatives on the set is no guarantee that animals are safe. The AHA doesn’t oversee the off-site training of animals—where most of the abuse occurs—or animals’ living and transport conditions. Trainers were caught on tape hitting elephants commonly used in movies. A whistleblower who worked on the set of Speed Racer allegedly saw a young chimpanzee beaten behind the scenes. Even when monitors are on the set, animals have been hurt and killed, such as the two horses who died during the filming of Flicka. The AHA took the position that the horses’ deaths were “unpreventable accidents.” The good news is that there are plenty of entertaining movies that don’t exploit animals, and please note that We Bought a Zoo—for which the director forced lions, bears, and other wild animals to perform—is not among them.

Transcending generations, The Muppets is a movie that both parents and children can identify with and enjoy. Kids of all ages will laugh out loud at performing penguins in Happy Feet Two. And there isn’t a toddler around who won’t be delighted by the animated antics of Alvin, Simon, and Theodore as they survive on a Polynesian island in Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked.

All parents know that the lessons that we unintentionally teach children are as important as those that we make an effort to impart. Taking children to movies in which live animals are used and abused for entertainment is a lesson to avoid indeed.

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  • Barb commented on December 21, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    In addition to the gross immorality of forcing animals to perform, “We Bought a Zoo” promotes the message that private zoos are positive for animals and communities, that exotic animals should be owned by people, and that no special training is needed to care for wild animals in captivity. This is the mentality that led to the Zanesville massacre. This movie is morally wrong for so many reasons.

  • W commented on December 26, 2011 at 3:53 am

    We Bought a Zoo is also starring Matt Damon, the actor that paid money to watch a bull fight while visiting Spain…don’t help this actor by seeing any of his movies in the future.

  • A B commented on December 26, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    I hadn’t even thought of this. I am not going to go see “We Bought a Zoo” with my family, I am going to discourage them to see it, too. Another movie we wanted to see was “Chipwrecked”, so they should be satisfied with just seeing that.

  • Natalie commented on December 28, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    What I don’t get is Matt Damon is best friends with Ben affleck, brother of Casey affleck who supports kindness to animals. I hope Casey told Matt off for doing this stupid movie and also for supporting bull fighting! What a loser. With all that money he has there is no reason why he cannot find more compassionate ways to entertain himself!!!

  • Camilla commented on December 28, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    I completely agree – of course animals should not be forced to perform! We will never watch “We Bought a Zoo”. “Happy Feet 2” is a good choise if you ask our daughter. :o)

  • Elsje Massyn commented on December 29, 2011 at 12:51 am

    Its so sorry that Matt Damon is now classified as a bloodthirsty bullfight watching human being. I used to be impressed by his acting and his choice of movies – now I am appalled – shame on him.

  • Susan C commented on December 29, 2011 at 10:26 am

    How about a simple list of movies as part of this article, instead of embedding it within the text – to make it easy for the quick peruser to see? Thanks! I was NOT going to see the Zoo movie for sure and my husband laughs when I say I want to see Chipwrecked, but it looks too cute!

  • Ev and Doris Cutler commented on December 29, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    No way shall we or members of our families see “We Bought a Zoo”

  • holland commented on December 29, 2011 at 7:45 pm

    What is the humane consensus on “War Horse?”

  • shel commented on December 29, 2011 at 10:20 pm

    I am a vegan, but I am also nonjudgemental.. Everyone has the right to watch any movie they want… There is no need for us to judge or put down how others choose to live their lives.

  • Ashley-P commented on January 2, 2012 at 11:12 pm

    Holland: You can read up on “War Horse” here:

  • holland commented on January 5, 2012 at 10:46 am

    @shel: being non-judgmental, as you say you are, simply permits bad things to go on. It’s our duty to inform, persuade and act to end cruelty and neglect. Don’t suppress your voice when it comes to saving innocents. PeTA has a new Never Be Silent campaign that is worthy of all our pledges.

  • Dani Baker commented on January 7, 2012 at 12:36 am

    @Holland: Thanks for your previous comment; I was thinking the same thing myself. Educating others about animal cruelty and promoting compassion is no more judgmental than speaking out against racism, sexism, human slavery, or child abuse.

  • snikib commented on January 11, 2012 at 5:07 pm

    Appears on many websites that the animals were treated properly on “We Bought a Zoo”

  • Ashley-P commented on January 13, 2012 at 10:38 am

    snikib: That familiar statement that scrolls up the screen at the end of a film is misleading to audiences and filmmakers alike. The Denver-based group American Humane Association (AHA), formed after a horse was deliberately thrown to his death for the 1939 film Jesse James, is not adequately staffed to monitor all productions effectively, nor does it have the authority to enforce its own standards. It only has the power to grant any of six ratings, which range from “Outstanding” to “Special Circumstances” to “Not Monitored.” AHA is funded by the Screen Actors Guild, which means it isn’t a truly independent monitor. AHA bases its ratings only on the short period of time when animals are on the set—it supervises animals only during filming, not when they are being trained for films. In addition, the organization does not take into account animals’ living conditions or trainers’ animal-related offenses or violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act. Furthermore, no agency monitors separation of babies from their mothers, and AHA doesn’t take into consideration the disposal of animals after they are no longer of use to the exhibitor.

  • Gerald Tros commented on January 25, 2012 at 7:34 am

    Dear Tracy Reiman,
    Thank you for your sensitive article. You close with: “All parents know that the lessons that we unintentionally teach children are as important as those that we make an effort to impart.”
    I doubt whether “all”, or even most, parents are that aware. What do you reckon?

  • Tracy commented on January 30, 2012 at 6:30 am

    Whoa, thigns just got a whole lot easier.

  • Brandy commented on January 30, 2012 at 6:30 am

    Wow, your post makes mine look feelbe. More power to you!

  • Juliet commented on February 13, 2012 at 9:53 pm

    I agree with this article. I would like to let everyone know that the cheetah who was in the 2012 superbowl car commercial, has a trainer that I know personally. I know for a fact that he was never hurt and he was, and still is, cared for greatly. With that being said, I still don’t agree with using live animals in commercials. It did bring money to the non-profit organization that cares for him and other large cats, but it desensitizes people from the pain and suffering that other animals go through when filming. Seriously, we can use special effects instead of live animals.

  • sydney commented on August 28, 2015 at 9:56 pm

    I love animals!