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February 03, 2014

Disrupting the Use of Animals in Entertainment

The Super Bowl is the biggest television event of the year, with more than 100 million tuning in yesterday afternoon and evening – even though this year’s game was a real blowout. Every year, the commercials garner almost as much attention as the game itself. While the ads were far from perfect from an animal welfare perspective, and there were apparently trained tigers and bears in some of the commercials, there’s been measurable progress, with no chimp ads and many fewer exotic animals used in production than in past years.  I was happy to see a couple of advertisements this year that touted the human-animal bond, shining the spotlight on shelter pets available for adoption.

There was another kind of marker of our progress that hit the airwaves during the big game. Paramount Pictures premiered a new TV spot for its upcoming epic film "Noah," starring Russell Crowe . But thanks to a decision by the film's director Darren Aronofsky, enabled by remarkable new technology, this version of Noah's Ark will contain no real animals. Aronofsky and his team created all the animals digitally, not using any captive exotics or animal “actors” in the film. In recent years, other films, including Rise of the Planet of the Apes, also used digital tools to simulate life-like animals.

OFFICIAL-POSTER-NOAH-RUSSELL-CROWE_240x270
Paramount Pictures

There has been a rise in public consciousness around the treatment of captive animals, including those used in films, TV, and commercials. It’s very difficult to account for the emotional and behavioral needs of chimps and other higher mammals in captive settings that do not allow them to live a life dictated by their species' natural behaviors. What’s more, big cats, bears, and other wildlife can pose undue risks for the people on film sets. Performing animals often face harsh training methods, and once they are “retired,” they often end up in roadside and private menageries that typically provide deficient, non-professional care. Sometimes rescues or sanctuaries take them in, bearing the long-term financial burdens of problems not of their makings.

Films like Noah spare animals from potential harm by using modern technology to help tell their story. Audiences can still be awed while watching members of the animal kingdom board Noah's Ark, but there were no collateral victims. In the preview that aired Sunday, Noah vows as the flood approaches to “save the innocent.” We hope that more filmmakers take advantage of the sophisticated technology tools available to them, delivering a positive message about animal protection and not diminishing in any way the power of the art of film-making.

Noah releases in theaters on March 28, 2014. Watch the trailer and TV spot at http://www.noahmovie.com.

P.S. Hall of Fame New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath looked pretty ridiculous in a gaudy fur coat, striking the most archaic note of the day during his ceremonial coin toss. He seemed to be the only person on the field insensitive enough to be wearing an animal fur, especially on a relatively warm evening.

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