Allegations of animal cruelty were made against the 2012 adventure film "Life of Pi" after King, the starring tiger, nearly drowned on set. (Fox 2000 Pictures)

Arts and Entertainment

Analyzing the history of animals being harmed in Hollywood films

Why you shouldn't be so quick to believe the movie disclaimer "No Animals Were Harmed."
<a href="" target="_self">Elise Park</a>

Elise Park

August 3, 2022
Animals have always played an irreplaceable role in filmmaking. In fact, the very history of film began in 1879 with images of a horse galloping via the zoopraxiscope, which became the predecessor of the movie projector.

Four decades later, a German shepherd named Rin Tin Tin starred in 27 Hollywood films, saving the renowned movie studio Warner Bros. from bankruptcy. He was even rumored to have received the most votes for the “Best Actor” category at the first Academy Awards.

Considering the extensive employment of animals as “actors,” it is natural to question their treatment of them on sets. Currently, the law classifies animals as property, and no federal or state law oversees their use of them in the film industry. There is only the American Humane Association, an industry-based organization aimed at protecting warm-blooded animals in film, which was initially founded in 1877 after allegations of animal cruelty within the industry first spread. In 1972, the AHA coined the familiar phrase “No Animals Were Harmed,” which appears in the credits of movies.

Despite the AHA, the film industry has a long history of animal abuse. In a 1939 Western entitled “Jesse James,” director Henry King sent a horse over a 70-foot cliff resulting in brutal and violent death. In 1959, around 100 horses were shot and killed during the production of “Ben-Hur.”

It may be shocking to learn that even one of the most beloved Disney franchises has a cruel past, as dozens of fish and squid were killed in explosions for the 2003 film “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” and later washed up on shore.

The Oscar-winning film “Life of Pi” tells the heartwarming story of a young boy befriending a tiger. However, the story wasn’t so heartwarming behind the scenes.

King, the Bengal tiger starring in the film, nearly drowned on several occasions. That same year, 27 animals including sheep and goats died on the set of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” due to dehydration and negligence.

More recently, “A Dog’s Purpose” was boycotted after a viral video of a frightened dog forcibly submerged in rushing water sparked a response among animal activists. And the shocking part of it all? These three films were approved by the AHA.

It is clear there is little to rely on regarding the proper care for animals, which is why it is vital studios shift away from handling real animals on set. In 2016, Disney’s “The Jungle Book” was released, featuring entirely computer-generated images apart from one human actor. The film was a tremendous commercial success, grossing $966 million worldwide. Not only that, it proved the significance of utilizing CGI to create amazingly life-like animals and awe audiences.

Moreover, in 2018, Bradley Cooper starred in the Oscar-winning film “A Star is Born” and acted alongside his own dog — another convenient way to avoid the perpetual cycle of animal abuse on set. These two movies serve as positive inspirations as we look toward the future of film.

Until then, the next time you see “No Animals Were Harmed,” don’t be so quick to believe it.

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