By Jody McCutcheon
When you compare early human civilizations with what we have now, in terms of social, moral and technological advancements, it’s difficult not to be impressed. We discovered fire and the wheel. We built space-exploring crafts, thousand-foot-tall skyscrapers and a fibre-optic network of global connectivity. We’re making a big push toward social equality and human rights for all. Heck, we’ve even invented Facebook and Instagram!
But for all the positives, we as a species also can be pretty odious and destructive. As the comedian’s humour is highlighted when paired with the straight man, human arrogance and ignorance is rather pronounced in contrast with the modest, unassuming existence of other animals.
Below are ten films about animals that show our nasty sides. Though don’t lose all hope for our salvation (and that of the planet) – despite the awful human behavior that put the various animals of these movies in their predicaments, we mustn’t forget that it’s humans who saved many of these animals, not to mention who shared these stories. And the compassion you may end up feeling for our furry friends may well have you swearing off eating meat, wearing leather, and visiting Sea World ever again.
Without further ado…10 Films About Animals That Will Make You Hate Humans.
Based on a novel by Austrian author Felix Salten, Disney’s animated, 1942 classic depicts the human capacity for senseless destruction of wildlife. It’s even spawned a term, “the Bambi Effect,” which the media use to describe objections to the killing of cute, cuddly animals (compared to the “acceptable” killing of ugly or repulsive creatures like spiders and fungus). Who doesn’t recall the shocking scene in which Bambi’s mother, foraging for food, is shot and killed? Who didn’t feel sympathy for the defenseless, orphaned little fawn? The deer-hunting, human monster that murdered Bambi’s mother, that’s who!
This iconic movie depicts the plight of baby elephants taken from their natural habitat and forced into circuses. After being kidnapped from their mothers, they’re beaten into submission, shackled and chained and shipped in boxcars to the Big Top (and Hollywood), where they’re forced into performing dangerous tricks. Humans are thus portrayed as greedy subjugators who abuse animals for the sake of entertainment. The 1941 cartoon has spawned an upcoming live-action version that Tim Burton will direct. Fear not, for the producers have said they’ll use computer-generated imagery to avoid any possibility of animal exploitation in the making of the movie.
Starring Sigourney Weaver and depicting the true story of naturalist Dian Fossey’s work in Rwanda with mountain gorillas, the Golden Globe-winning, 1988 film alerted the world to the plight of the endangered primate species and helped them return from the brink of extinction. It also exposed the human poachers killing gorillas for their skins, hands and heads—and the Rwandan government officials who protected the poachers—as ruthless symbols of unchecked greed and capitalist aggression.
Who’d believe that a Disney-esque film about a pig that wants to be a sheepdog would make viewers hate humans? Babe the pig is almost selected to be the main course in Christmas Dinner, but a series of fortuitous events spare his life and help him accomplish his dream of herding sheep. Adapted from Dick King-Smith’s novel “The Sheep Pig,” this 1995 film addresses the idea that we humans choose to love some animals while slaughtering others—the Bambi Effect, anyone?—and that we ignore animal rights and sensitivities to suit our own needs.
This Oscar-winning, 2005 documentary, co-produced by the National Geographic Society and directed by Luc Jacquet, depicts the annual journey of Antarctica’s emperor penguins. With this particular species being driven to extinction by the melting of sea ice in Antarctica—its population is expected to shrink from 3,000 to about 400 by century’s end—the film is thus an oblique discussion of the effects of climate change. More specifically (and obliquely), it’s a critique of the arrogant, ignorant human behaviour responsible for climate change. Jacquet’s more recent doc, Ice and the Sky (in which penguins make a supporting appearance), is a more vocal condemnation of climate change.
6. Born Free
Heartwarming is an odd adjective to apply to a film that makes the viewer want to hate our species, yet it applies here, at least on the surface. Based on the true story of Kenyan game warden George Adamson raising three lion cubs whose parents he killed in self-defense, this 1966 film is ostensibly a heartwarming story of love and redemption. Look deeper, though, and it’s a cautionary tale of death and zoo-confinement of wild animals at the whim of humans, foreshadowing the future decline of Africa’s lion population at the opposable-thumbed hands of hunters and cullers. When humans seek control over their environment, even the King of Beasts becomes their bee-yatch.
7. White God
This 2014 Hungarian film tells the surreal story of young Lili and her dog, Hagen, struggling to reconnect after the State indirectly forces them apart. Both endure hardship, but Hagen in particular suffers at the cruel hands of various human interlopers who subjugate him during his attempts at reuniting with Lili. The humans don’t necessarily exhibit intentional cruelty toward Hagen; it’s more a case of the banality of evil in their treatment of the poor dog. By film’s end, Hagen leads a canine mob out of a pound, and the dogs subsequently rise up against their human oppressors in a comeuppance that’s delightful to watch, considering all the bad feelings the audience harbours toward the humans.
8. The Cove
For any film, a little controversy is a good thing: more people will watch, if only to see what the fuss is about. Part of the fuss over this Oscar-winning, 2009 documentary depicting Japan’s cruel dolphin hunt is indeed the savagery of the slaughter. Indeed, the film’s graphic depictions of brutality—humans herding dolphins into a cove and killing them with spears and knives; a practice which local townspeople and government officials apparently go to great lengths to hide—serve as a plea to stop the killings. But additional controversy arises from critics who consider the film a form of anti-Japanese propaganda and compare the dolphin hunt to the western practice of slaughtering cows. Is one practice any more ethical or brutal than the other? Go ask Mother Nature. She might say one human’s brutality is another’s way of life.
SeaWorld used to be an exciting place to visit. But Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s acclaimed, 2013 documentary on Tilikum the (literally) killer whale and SeaWorld’s treatment of animals in confinement lifted the veil on orcas living in captivity, turning people off the marine zoo in significant numbers. The act of kidnapping these emotional and intelligent creatures from the wild, then isolating them in tiny (compared to the vast ocean) pools without emotional or intellectual stimulation, all for the sake of corporate profit, is the kind of cruelty that truly makes one despise the perpetrators. Since Blackfish premiered, SeaWorld attendance and revenues have decreased and previously affiliated companies have severed connections. It looks good on them.
Considering that this film outlines humans’ exploitation of animals, it’s no wonder that a team of vegans is responsible for it. Narrated by Joaquin Phoenix, scored by Moby and directed by Shaun Monson, the multi-award–winning, 2005 American documentary depicts human uses of animals as pets, clothing, entertainment, and subjects of scientific research, addressing parallels between racism, sexism and speciesism. Raw footage captured by hidden cameras reveals animal treatment in shelters, puppy mills, pet stores and animal professions. As if other movies on this list don’t, Earthlings drives home the point that humans can treat animals with great cruelty, not for purposes of survival, but simply to promote personal amusement, comfort and health—in other words, for non-essential reasons.