Animal Inventory Blog

Keeping track of animals in popular culture.

Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

Animals on the Internet

Posted by lisagbrown on August 27, 2009


Animals are everywhere on the internet, and it seems that every day there are more and more viral stories, videos and photos about animals! In order to accomodate the rapid influx of news and links, I’ve started a Facebook page where I can quickly post these items when I don’t have time to write a blog entry. Here’s a sampling of what you’ve been missing, if you’re not a fan of Animal Inventory on Facebook!

  • Monkey Herds Goats; Farmer Approves: An amazing National Geographic video of a monkey in India that herds goats! She has received no training, and does it on a completely voluntary basis — she was set free by the people who tended to some wounds she had gotten in the wild, but has chosen to stay with them and herd their goats!
  • Green Porno: Isabella Rossellini and Sundance channel team up to create very short films about the reproductive habits of marine animals. GREEN PORNO is scientifically accurate yet extremely entertaining.
  • Chimp Outtakes: Adorable outtakes from footage shot by the Jane Goodall Institute of the chimps in Gombi.
  • Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me: The NPR news quiz show hosts an episode that’s all about animals!

And there’s so much more! Articles about: a giraffe and an ostrich that are best friends, how Barry White might help sharks mate, an elephant and a dolphin getting prosthetic limbs. Introductions to cool artists who are inspired by animals, like Jen Mastre’s pencil sea urchin sculptures.  Plus I’ve begun highlighting the animal-related work of Animal Inventory’s fans themselves, an astonishingly talented and prolific group of people: for example, the comics of Nick Abadzis, the artwork of Jessica Joslin, the writing of Leslie Irvine.

There’s much more to come. Don’t miss out on your daily dose of Animal Inventory on Facebook!



Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Art, Comics, Conservation, Film, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Primates, Public Policy, Representations | Leave a Comment »

Japan’s Dolphin Massacre: The Cove in Taiji

Posted by lisagbrown on August 7, 2009


Dolphins have been massacred by the thousands in the town of Taiji, Japan, but until now, not many people knew about it. Thanks to the dedicated team behind the new movie, The Cove, the cruel, ongoing practice of dolphin slaughtering has been exposed. The horrifying truth is that most people in Japan don’t even know this is happening in their own country and — even worse — they don’t know that some of the fish they eat is dolphin meat. They are purposefully being deceived in order to sustain a lucrative and dishonest industry that provides “show” dolphins to aquariums and “swim-with-dolphins” programs worldwide.

As the film opens, director Louis Psihoyos explains, “we tried to do this film legally.” With this one line, Psihoyos sets up the espionage, intrigue and drama of a film that has Hitchcock-worthy, rapid-fire pacing. The Cove stands as a meticulous documentary whose important contribution to animal welfare is only outshone by its contribution to the medium of guerrilla-style documentary film-making. This is storytelling at its most profound, where structure and content intertwine seamlessly to create a narrative that is as exciting as it is informative.

The Cove traces the story of Ric O’Barry, the dolphin trainer for the 1960’s television show Flipper, who feels responsible for contributing to the captivity of dolphins. During brief interludes, O’Barry shares his profound attachment to Kathy, one of the dolphins who played Flipper. She brought him to a greater understanding of why these beings ought not to be in captivity. O’Barry’s perspective is integrated with information from scientists, divers and others who share personal and professional knowledge, creating a holistic portrait of dolphins as sentient, self-aware beings whose suffering is unjustifiable.

As is the case with most thrillers, there are good guys and bad guys, corrupt government schemers, and a genuine danger of being caught. All these pieces provide the framework, but the dolphins and their plight remain at the heart of every wrenching scene, giving the drama a pulsating urgency that fictional thrillers lack.

I’ve heard that some people are fearful of seeing the film because they think they won’t be able to handle the upsetting nature of its content. I hope to dissuade people of this fear. It’s true that there are things that happen in this movie that are incredibly sad to see and even worse to think about, but it would be such a disservice to yourself — and the dophins — if you allow this fear to overtake you. This film won’t destroy you. It doesn’t show you anything you can’t handle. But it will provoke attention and outrage, and it will very likely incite you to take action. In the same way that Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth inspired moviegoers to go beyond the passive experience of movies — and participate in the experience long after the film has ended — The Cove will inspire everyday people to champion on behalf of the dolphins.

What is happening in Taiji deserves scrutiny. It warrants our attention. And it needs to end.

To take action, visit

To find a screening in your city, visit The Cove‘s website









Dolphins performing in Taiji.                                                                                      The filmmakers with two covert filming tools.

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Art, Conservation, Ethics, Film, Fish, Food Animals, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Public Policy, Representations | 1 Comment »

Filling the Ark: Animal Welfare in Disasters

Posted by lisagbrown on June 18, 2009

filllingHurricane Katrina was a pivotal event in animal welfare in the United States.  However, it’s only now, some four years later, that we can begin to understand what happened in New Orleans. I’ve previously highlighted the film MINE,  a documentary feature that explores the impact of Katrina on humans and nonhumans. Now, the book Filling the Ark: Animal Welfare in Disasters  takes a broader look at how animals are handled in disasters — not just during Katrina, but during many of the most recent hurricanes, tornadoes, oil spills, and other calamities.

In Filling the Ark, author Leslie Irvine weaves a tale that is both eye-opening and tragic. She reveals some of the most horrific repercussions of Katrina, and places them in the context of America’s “lesser” disasters. In the wake of Katrina, it has been easy to forget that other disasters set the stage for the inadequacies that became apparent during Katrina. But Irvine does a great service to animal welfarists, humanitarians and aid workers by putting all the pieces together in one place, and showing how cultural views, economic challenges, racism, and inadequate infrastructure combine to create disasters within disasters. It is not necessarily the hurricane that is tragic, she suggests, but our response to it that is.

Thus far, most of the attention to animal welfare in disasters has been placed on companion animals — people’s pets. But Irvine shatters that boundary by revealing the unfathomable impact that disasters have had on animals in factory farms, birds and marine wildlife, and animals in research facilities. For example, in hurricane Rita alone, 30,000 cattle died. When the media reports on losses like these, if at all,  it frames the deaths as economic hits to the farmer. The reality is that there is very little structure in place to provide for these animals (or zoo animals) during disasters.

In her final chapter, Irvine suggests ways that we can begin to mend these holes in our disaster plans. As she explains, her goal is not to promote a radical animal rights agenda, but rather to establish sound structures within a culture that — for now — is “deeply entrenched” in its use of animals for food, science, and companionship. She says, “By incorporating welfare considerations into our existing uses of animals, we also reduce vulnerability — overall and during disasters. I believe we can accomplish this goal without imposing undue hardships on people (p 17).” Her purpose is to change practices in a way that is achievable, realistic, and cost effective. The biggest issue now, it seems, is how can we get this book into the hands of people who will listen,and who have the power to implement these changes?

Posted in Animal Welfare, Animals, Birds, Cats, Dogs, Ethics, Film, Fish, Food Animals, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Literature, Public Policy, Representations, Theory | 1 Comment »

Mine: Taken By Katrina

Posted by lisagbrown on April 19, 2009

n46819729090_171Mine: Taken By Katrina, is a new documentary by filmmaker Geralyn Pezanoski, about the effects of hurricane Katrina on human-animal relationships. The film follows a number of individuals who try to reunite with their animals after the natural disaster, and the tragic conflicts between people who have newly adopted the lost animals, and the original families who were separated from them.

Ever since hurricane Katrina occurred, the animal studies community has been teaching about the impact the disaster had on the way Americans think about relationships with companion animals, the intersections between race, class, and human and animal welfare, and also the way the government deals with animals during a natural disaster. This film is a way to bring this message to a broader audience, and has the potential to completely transform the way Americans understand the complicated, essential bonds between humans and animals.

Mine is already receiving attention and accolades, having won the audience award for best documentary at SXSW 2009. The film is showing on Saturday, April 25th and Sunday, April 26th at the Independent Film Festival Boston. (For tickets, go to IFFBoston.) For more information, visit Mine: Taken By Katrina, and watch the incredibly powerful trailer below.

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Art, Cats, Dogs, Ethics, Film, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Public Policy, Representations, Television | 2 Comments »

Dogs of War

Posted by lisagbrown on February 19, 2009

Dogs have played an unexpectedly prominent role in media coverage of the Iraq war. It began with a horrendous video: a U.S. soldier threw a tiny puppy off a cliff. This video (which I have chosen not to re-post because I find it too upsetting) captures the havoc of war in a new and startling way. That tiny runt of a puppy is innocence personified, and I will never forget the sound of his scream as he was tossed over the rocky crag.  I wondered if that soldier had always been capable of such an act, or if this war had changed him into someone without compassion or concern. Had he been so numbed by the horrors of daily life in Iraq that his act did not seem to him deranged? I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I do know that that soldier was America’s worst fears realized — he was meant to be representing our country, and instead he perpetuated a cycle of violence and rage that this war was (supposedly) trying to prevent.charlie___profile_main_51_1_1_32421

Eventually, stories began to trickle out of Iraq about U.S. soldiers who are smuggling dogs back into the U.S. These are not horror stories, but tales of love and compassion. The stray dogs lift the spirits of the soldiers who adopt them, and give the soldiers a reason to wake up each morning. If the man in the video was America’s worst fear about who represents our country abroad, then this other kind of soldier is the antidote. These soldiers see profundity in every single life. They are soldiers that Americans can believe in and relate to; soldiers who  witness horror, decay, and the hell of war, yet still see a life worth saving amongst the discarded strays.

And now a different kind of story is coming out of Iraq. Baghdad has established a program to deal with their rampant strays, and that program is enforced with poison and a shotgun. These strays are part of the aftermath of our war. They are  innocents who no one knows what to do with, so the dogs are simply and brutally killed.


When I write about controversial animals issues — like the geese that were struck by an airplane, or the personhood rights of apes, or the suffering of dogs in wartime — I sometimes get e-mails from people who accuse me of putting animal welfare before human welfare. They wonder, with all the human suffering in the world, how I could focus on animal issues instead. They see this question as black and white: either humans or animals. We must chose between them, and I have chosen wrong. But in response, I must quote the words of Mahatma Gandhi, who said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

I believe that animals deserve to live free from pain and suffering, simply because they can experience these feelings. But if that is not a good enough reason, then I encourage people to look at the ways that the health of animals is inextricably linked to the well-being of humans. We are mirrors of each other, animals and humans. Our choice should not be one of who show concern for, but howwe do.  It is possible to build an understanding of suffering that integrates compassion for both humans and animals, because we cannot achieve the well-being of one, without the other. These dogs of war are examples of this. Each story — the discarded puppy, the adopted dogs, the slaughtered strays — demonstrates how we channel our own frustrations, hope and despair into another species. We look to them to save us from our pain, whether by hurting them or helping them. The way we treat animals tells us how well we are doing to maintain our own standards of well-being. It is through them, and with them, that we strive to be better people.

For more information on how to help soldiers bring their dogs back from war, visit Operation Baghdad Pups

Posted in Animal Welfare, Animals, Dogs, Ethics, Film, Human-Animal Bond, Identity, Public Policy | 3 Comments »

Best of the Blogs…

Posted by lisagbrown on December 7, 2008

There is nothing I love more than perusing my favorite blogs. Too often, the medium of blogging gets a bad rap because anyone can have a blog (and almost everyone does!) But that’s not the medium’s fault. Just like there are terrible and wonderful books, movies and art, there are terrible and wonderful blogs, as well. You just have to know how to sift through the bad to find the good, and this can be an intimidating endeavor. I highly recommend every single one of the blogs listed on my blogroll, but I thought I’d highlight the ones I’ve been completely addicted to lately. Enjoy!


Antennae isn’t actually a blog (it’s a journal), but it’s full of fascinating articles, interviews, art and tidbits by many of the most influential contemporary animal/nature writers and artists. Download the current issue “Botched Taxidermy” as a PDF on their website.

This blog is authored by Vanessa Woods, a Bonobo researcher who is stationed at Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary in the Congo. Her blog is full of vibrant color photos, descriptions of her relationships with the bonobos and a no-holds-barred personal account of the politics of bonobo protection.

You may have noticed my previous enthusiasm for this blog, but it bears repeating. Daily Coyote is the day-to-day account of Shreve Stockton’s efforts to raise an orphaned coyote pup. Not only are her photos breathtakingly beautiful, but Shreve’s determination to chronicle this adventure responsibly (i.e., to reiterate that she will never again undertake an experience like this, and that coyotes are not meant to be pets) is commendable.

For a more intellectual and theoretical perspective on animals, check out the blog of Boria Sax, one of the stand-out powerhouses in the burgeoning field of human-animal studies.

Red Star Cafe is undoubtedly one of my all time favorite blogs. I like to imagine that I’m the only one who knows about this amazing treasure-trove of writing. I’m only sharing this little secret with you because I know you won’t tell anyone else about the intelligence, insight and originality with which they write about animals and nature in culture. Shh. Don’t tell. Our secret.

This blog is the ‘notebook’ of Boston-based writer and professor Steve Himmer. Steve posts his favorite highlights from blogs, books and more, and all of it is about nature, animals and writing. It’s a great source of inspiration, and a way to find hidden gems.

In the past, my own blog has been called, “wonderfully specific,” a compliment that I’d like to pass on to Taxidermy: Ravishing Beasts. It is a smart, engaging blog about the beauty, controversy, and power of taxidermy.

This bilingual blog by a Columbia University doctoral student combines her love of 18th century literature, contemporary American popular culture, and razor-sharp autobiography, into one big, diverse, delightful read.

Posted in Advertising, Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Art, Birds, Cats, Comics, Conservation, Dogs, Ethics, Extinction, Film, Fish, Food Animals, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Identity, Literature, Music, Photography, Primates, Public Policy, Radio, Religion, Representations, Television, Theory | 3 Comments »

An interview with “An Engineer’s Guide to Cats” creator Paul Klusman

Posted by lisagbrown on November 17, 2008

With close to 3,000,000 hits on Youtube at last count, An Engineer’s Guide to Cats (video posted below) became an overnight internet phenomenon in mid 2008. “Guide to Cats” creator Paul Klusman documents his devotion to his three cats, Zoe, Ginger and Oscar, using a video camera and a little bit of humor. Since then, Klusman has expanded the cats’ video oeuvre with the addition of An Engineer’s Guide to Voting: Ginger for President, and others. In October, he was quoted in the New York Times for an article about men and cats, and below, Klusman was kind enough to answer my questions about the unexpected success of his “Guide to Cats.”


Animal Inventory: First of all, how are Zoe, Ginger and Oscar?

Paul Klusman: They are doing just fine. Their recent fame has not gone to their furry heads and they are still “kitties from the block.”

AI: How did you decide to make “An Engineer’s Guide to Cats?” More specifically, why did you choose to make a movie about your cats?

PK: “An Engineer’s Guide to Cats” is a derivative of an earlier film called “Oscar: The Artist Cat” and was made specifically for a short film festival in Australia called Sony Tropfest. This film festival requires all entries to be new films so I used some of the footage from “Oscar: The Artist Cat” combined with new footage and a new story to create “An Engineer’s Guide to Cats.” Sony Tropfest rejected the film so I put it on YouTube thinking that my friends and family could at least enjoy what I assumed to be a mediocre film. It did very little on YouTube for about the first two months and then exploded all over the internet in early April of this year. According to a website called, on Sunday, April 13, 2008 “An Engineer’s Guide to Cats” became the #1 viral video on the entire internet that day and repeated its #1 rating again the following weekend.

The decision to use my cats in my films is partially out of an affection I have for cats plus the fact that they are available 24/7 for filming. Also there is a unique challenge in extracting a story from cat behavior. It is simply impossible to make a cat do what it does not want to do, so you have to observe the cat’s behavior, capture it on video, and then build a story around the cat behavior. This often takes tremendous patience. I have hours and hours of boring cat video footage.

AI: Early on in the film you talk about “that guy … who has all those cats…” This description seems to reference a cultural stereotype that your audience is familiar with — and the indication is that nobody wants to be “that guy.” Can you explain who “that guy” is, and if people have accused you of being him? Do you think the film helps to transform the stereotype of “that guy?”

PK: I think “that guy” is characterized by a personality that allows him to interact with animals as well as humans. He may be more comfortable with his cats than humans and because of this some people can’t easily relate to him. The fact that my character is also a stereotypical engineer adds to this.

People don’t accuse me of being “that guy” as much as I claim it for myself. I don’t mind being seen as someone who counters the “macho” male stereotype that insists “real men” cannot like cats. I don’t know if the film transforms “that guy” but hopefully it demonstrates that it is ok to be “that guy.” The fact that TJ and I have both received many romantic inquiries from ladies all around the world indicates that it is not such a bad thing to be “that guy!”

AI: It is easy to find instances of humor being used in media when animals are involved. But usually, the artist is either making fun of the animal, or making fun of human affection for animals. You’ve managed to create an hysterically funny video that does neither. Was this a specific goal of yours? How did you achieve this?

PK: Humor was the primary goal, but I do believe in having respect for animals so I was very careful to make sure this was apparent in the film. I was particularly worried that people would view the “corporal cuddling” and “static electricity” scenes as mistreating the cats, so I made sure to include elements that demonstrated the cats were possibly annoyed but not harmed.

AI: I think that there has long been an impression that when something is funny, it’s not smart. For instance, comedies never win a Best Picture Academy Award. But I believe that comedians like Jon Stewart have introduced a kind of humor is easily identifiable as smart humor. “Guide to Cats” follows in this tradition, but with a twist. This is smart humor about human-animal relationships. Beyond making people laugh, did you hope to reveal a new perspective on the friendships between people and cats? Did anyone (aside from your cats) inspire you in the making of the film?

PK: I just liked the idea of showing single guys who like cats in a positive light and I suppose this is a bit of a new thing. Film has many examples of “a boy and his dog” or “the cowboy and his trusty horse” but “a guy and his cats” is unusual.

As for the humor, I do enjoy having many levels of humor including some that is obvious to all members of the audience and some that is harder to catch. From the comments posted about the video, many people are mystified by my character always wearing the same red shirt. One person commented that this is on purpose as a stereotypical characteristic of an engineer. At least one person gets the joke that is the red shirt and I think that is cool.

My interest in making films started when a buddy of mine quit his engineering job to attend film school. He showed me a short film he had made and it looked like so much fun I decided to try it, myself. I started experimenting with a video camera and computer editing and I found that it was not that difficult get a story from brain to video. At some point I stumbled across the films of Robert Rodriguez and researched his path to film making. I read his book “Rebel Without a Crew” where he emphasized making inexpensive films quickly and making many of them to learn the craft. I followed this philosophy and I am continuing to learn today.

AI: Why do you think this story resonated so strongly for viewers?

PK: It has cats.

…ok, seriously, aside from the humor I think it also has an innocence that people enjoy. I appreciate films that have “innocent” main characters like “O Brother, Where art Thou?” and “Napoleon Dynamite” and I am surprised there are not more of them in the market given the success of these films.

AI: Since the success of “Guide to Cats,” most of the videos you’ve posted on Youtube have been about your cats. Do you expect that your cats will continue to be your inspiration?

PK: I’ve got a series of “Engineer’s Guide” videos planned that will feature the cats in some minor role at least. It is fun to portray the cats as having human motivations and characteristics and once you get the hang of it this is not terribly difficult to do. Humans themselves are also fascinating creatures so I will expand to include more of them as well.

AI: What do you hope the trajectory of your career will be, and will animals continue to play a significant role?

PK: I would like to write and direct feature films as well as publish music and books. I’ve also thought about doing fun and educational videos about science and engineering. I think our country is starting to lose its competitive edge in science and engineering, and too many kids want to go for an MBA or become lawyers in my opinion. I’d like to use film to illustrate how much fun it is to understand how things work and how enjoyable the creative process of technical problem solving can be.

I will continue to have animals in my films but they may not always have a central role. My films will always advocate kindness and respect towards animals.

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animals, Art, Cats, Film, Human-Animal Bond, Identity, Representations, Television | Leave a Comment »

Review of “Our Daily Bread,” by Guest Blogger Mike Civille

Posted by lisagbrown on November 12, 2008

ourdailybread1I’m pleased to introduce Animal Inventory’s first guest blogger, Mike Civille. Civille is an independent filmmaker who has taught film studies at Boston College since 1999. He is currently a candidate for PhD in American Studies at Boston University. Read his review of the film Our Daily Bread, below.

*  *  *

Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s Our Daily Bread is a film that captures the banal and repetitive nature of mass food production. Through a unique combination of static shots and slow moving cameras, the film tiptoes from the production of one food to another, lulling the viewer into desensitized complacency. Geyrhalter forces the viewer to sit through much of the process uninterrupted, a feature that is sometimes boring and sometimes horrifying. The first third of the film is devoid of any shocking imagery, which gives it the mechanical quality of a museum installation piece. Workers pick fruit, feed poultry, and spray insecticides, while one particularly surreal sequence shows live chicks being fired from a machine into bins, like chirping tennis balls. After a while, the workers processing the food begin to resemble the machines they’re assisting, absent of any reaction, arms moving as programmed. Geyrhalter’s meticulously rhythmic depiction of the process turns the audience into a mechanism as well, a voyeuristic witness with little emotional attachment — that is, until the last half hour, when the pigs, cows, chickens, and fish begin their unfortunate path to the market. By now, the viewers are a part of the machinery, and they must witness this unedited nasty routine as accomplices, their mass desire for bacon, burgers, buffalo wings and seafood the cause of all of this gutting and hacking. If you can make it through the monotonous first half, Our Daily Bread recovers as an effective, beautifully framed and carefully constructed wakeup call about nature, machines, and humans’ place in between. (Distributed by First Run/Icarus Films)
(Mike Civille)

Posted in Animal Welfare, Animals, Art, Birds, Ethics, Film, Food Animals, Guest Blogger, Public Policy | 1 Comment »

Animal Inventory TV, Episode 2: Christine & Kelsey and Zoe

Posted by lisagbrown on October 29, 2008

I’m pleased to announce that episode 2 of Animal Inventory TV is available for viewing.

In 1992, Christine was struck by two above-ground trains while walking her dog Kelsey in Boston. At the last possible moment, Kelsey pulled Christine out of the direct path of the oncoming trains. Christine was badly injured, but Kelsey’s heroic action likely saved her life. During her lengthy recovery process, Christine decided to devote her life to the welfare of dogs. Now, with the help of her greyhound Zoe, Christine is campaigning to end greyhound racing in the state of Massachusetts.

For more information, visit the Animal Inventory TV website.

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Dogs, Ethics, Film, Human-Animal Bond, Public Policy, Representations, Television | Leave a Comment »

EW Explains, “It’s Hard Out There for a Chimp”

Posted by lisagbrown on October 13, 2008

Entertainment Weekly, one of my favorite pop-culture publications, has highlighted the life and times of Cheeta, a 76-year old chimp who played Tarzan’s best friend in the 1930s and 40s. In this week’s EW, the article “It’s Hard out there for a Chimp” by Josh Rottenberg explores the life of one of Hollywood’s forgotten veterans.

There were many chimps over the years who played Tarzan’s sidekick, but Cheeta’s guardian Dan Westfall explains, “[This] Cheeta is the ambassador. He represents all the chimps in the Tarzan pictures.” The retired chimp is in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the oldest known nonhuman primate. In addition to his repeated performances in the Tarzan franchise, Cheeta also starred in Bedtime for Bonzo, Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, and the 1967 Doctor Doolittle. Now that he’s retired, Cheetah spends his days watching TV, painting canvases and lounging in an apartment that befits a 76-year old retired movie star.

When mainstream media write about nonhuman primates in entertainment, articles often devolve into slapstick humor-laden stories that lack any insight — apes wearing children’s clothing and causing Curious George-like mischief. Thankfully, EW‘s Josh Rottenberg doesn’t fall into that cliche. Instead, finds the deeper layers of this story. Rottenberg describes the myriad projects that Cheeta’s human friends engage in on the chimp’s behalf (a ghost written autobiography, a novelty music recording, a budding art career). But Rottenberg also wonders what Cheeta thinks of all this fuss:

Precisely what Cheetah makes of all this activity on his behalf is anyone’s guess, of course. Chimpanzees may share, by recent estimates, nearly 98% of their DNA with humans. But those remaining bits of genetic code represent a chasm in communication that even the most assiduous celebrity journalist, trained to pry secrets from tight-lipped movie stars, cannot bridge.

Rottenberg places the ape at the center of his story by merely acknowledging that Cheeta could have an opinion. He lays the groundwork for viewing Cheeta’s life from the ape’s point of view. It is a subtle, but effective shift. And as a result, it is the human subjects, rather than the ape, who appear to be mildly farcical. Westfall is indignant because Cheeta doesn’t have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame like Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, and even Tinker Bell. While this may reflect Hollywood’s oversight of apes in entertainment, it also seems like the disgruntled rant of an overbearing stage dad whose priorities are skewed — especially when Rottenberg comments that Cheeta seems “untroubled” by the controversy.

Rottenberg quietly takes Hollywood to task for its use of animals in entertainment. Of Cheeta’s charmed retirement, he says “considering the way many showbiz animals are treated after their moment of glory, this is not a bad place to be.”

I would have liked to see a bit more vitriol in Rottenberg’s indictment of the use and abuse of animals in Hollywood, but sometimes even-handed judgment is a more effective way to highlight a point. Subtlety is a tool that Rottenberg wields well, but sometimes it’s hard to know exactly what he thinks, or what he wants his readers to glean from his storytelling. It’s unclear whether he honors or mocks Westfall’s declaration of devotion to Cheeta when Westfall says, “It’s almost a spiritual thing, the love we have for each other. The way he looks at me sometimes — I can’t explain it. He’s my best friend.”

However, when it comes to Cheeta himself, Rottenberg neither vilifies nor infantilizes his subject. Rottenberg repeatedly reminds his readers that Cheeta is a non-domesticated animal capable of both great violence and serene tenderness. He tries to paint a complete portrait of an animal that has simply been thrust into an unnatural environment. Cheeta is doing the best he can with what he’s got — with or without a star on the Walk of Fame.

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Art, Ethics, Film, Human-Animal Bond, Primates, Public Policy, Representations | Leave a Comment »