Actor—and frequent animal rights activist—Joaquin Phoenix issued a lengthy letter tonight, lending his name and support to an effort to have bears currently being kept at Florida’s Bearadise Ranch moved to “an accredited sanctuary” where they wouldn’t be forced to perform or be available to be rented out. Phoenix, as it turns out, apparently has something of a personal connection to at least two of these bears; named Bruno and Bambi, the two animals were allegedly (per Bearadise’s own social media) used as inspiration and models for the bears in 2003's Disney animated feature Brother Bear, which the actor starred in.
This is all per The Hollywood Reporter, which notes that Phoenix is lending his voice to the campaign after being informed about the bears’ captivity by PETA. Addressing the ranch’s owner, Monica Welde, Phoenix writes:
I just learned that two of the bears used in your traveling show, Bambi and Bruno, served as models for Disney’s Brother Bear. I voiced the movie’s main character, Kenai, who, as a lesson in empathy, is magically transformed to be able to see the world through bears’ eyes, and now I’m asking you to see through their eyes, too. These bears deserve better than a life on the road, where they are robbed of everything that’s natural and important to them, and if you put yourself in their place, I’m sure you’d see that, too.
You know firsthand that bears are curious, complex animals who love to climb, dig, forage, and play. Their acute sense of smell and plate-sized paws evolved so that they could seek out mates and food across vast distances, but those carefully honed traits are wasted on the county fair circuit, where they’re relegated to transport cages when they’re not pulling hoops over their heads and carrying basketballs around in front of crowds of strangers.
THR has reportedly reached out to Bearadise, which owns and cares for 13 bears, making them available for film shoots and festivals, and allowing interested consumers to hold events like weddings and birthday parties at the ranch. The ranch’s site states that its “mission is to promote awareness for habitat preservation and conservation for all bear species.”