While all the recent attention surrounding the deaths of animals on HBO’s Luck, and The Hobbit might lead one to believe that the monitoring of animal safety on film sets remains an unforgiving, tightly controlled endeavor—one befitting the blanket assurance of “No Animals Were Harmed”—a new Hollywood Reporter article reveals a far sadder truth. In all likelihood, some animals were harmed, and the far-ranging investigation into which animals and how also details the lengths the American Humane Association went to cover them up, issuing its famous end-credits seal of approval more out of a need to protect its industry connections than any, say, seals.
Titled “Animals Were Harmed: Hollywood’s Nightmare of Death, Injury, and Secrecy Exposed,” the article delves into how the AMA’s funding by the SAG-AFTRA actors’ union and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers has made the Humane Association “part of the industry it’s meant to regulate.” And that’s led to it intentionally downplaying or going to great lengths to classify animal deaths and injury as unintentional or “not work-related,” even if they could be directly linked to the production. In addition to many, many other horse deaths and abuse, there were these incidents didn’t prompt any sort of action, despite AHA monitors being present:
A Husky dog was punched dog was punched repeatedly in its diaphragm on Disney’s 2006 Antarctic sledding movie Eight Below, starring Paul Walker, and a chipmunk was fatally squashed in Paramount’s 2006 Matthew McConaughey-Sarah Jessica Parker romantic comedy Failure To Launch. In 2003, the AHA chose not to publicly speak of the dozens of dead fish and squid that washed up on shore over four days during the filming of Disney’s Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl. Crewmembers had taken no precautions to protect marine life when they set off special-effects explosions in the ocean, according to the AHA rep on set.
While hearing that a chipmunk died just so Matthew McConaughey could romance Sarah Jessica Parker is sad enough, the list goes on to include an “elderly giraffe” dying on the set of the Kevin James movie Zookeeper, dogs dying during the filming of Marmaduke and Our Idiot Brother, and an entire tank of fish that was killed on the set of Son Of The Mask, after someone in the props department replaced their specially treated water with ordinary stuff from the tap. The article opens with an anecdote about the Bengal tiger from Life Of Pi nearly drowning, which the film’s AHA monitor apparently responded to by issuing a memo reading, “DON’T MENTION IT TO ANYONE, ESPECIALLY THE OFFICE!”—a knowing complicity that the article alleges also took place on War Horse, when the AHA helped Steven Spielberg cover up yet another horse death.
It even allegedly got to Luck, where Barbara Casey, the AHA’s recently terminated (and currently suing) head of Film & TV Production, says she sounded the alarm on horse mistreatment, only to be forced out by AHA leaders looking to maintain their industry relationships—and only to have the show cancelled after there were too many horses corpses to sweep under rug. Anyway, the whole, long, brutal thing is worth a read, if only to explain why “No Animals Were Harmed” always appears in quotes. It might also be missing a comma.