Should You Feel Guilty When Watching Movies Starring Animals?

Movie re-makes of The Lady and the Tramp and The 101 Dalmatians have been announced. Over the last few years, you might have read that these kind of movies lead to increasing sales of the starring animals, which can lead to impulsive purchases of specific breeds -that will eventually end up filling up shelters-, or lead to the overexploitation of the species in the wild1,2,3,10,11. But is this actually the case? Should you feel bad when watching these movies because you’re indirectly fuelling the industry by bringing extra views and attention to the films?

Short answer: No, because this issue occurs very rarely, and the opposite seems to be truer – i.e., movies starring animals foster awareness.

Long answer:

Out of the hundreds of movies starring animals like dogs, the majority does not seem to have significant impacts on the popularity of breeds4. Films like The 101 Dalmatians are the exception rather than the rule4. The reasons behind why this happens for some movies are unclear, though they have socio-psychological roots.

Similarly, when wild animals are concerned, recent studies tell us that there is no link between movies such as Finding Nemo and the exploitation of the starring species in the wild, rather the media has been making such claims unscientifically5. The recent movie Finding Dory also had no impact on increasing demand for blue tang fish, the species of the main protagonist. Rather, scientists reported an increase in online searches for that species, showing that movies can foster interest in nature and wildlife6.

“Animal movies promote awareness, not harm”

Researchers at the University of Oxford7

From this perspective, the story behind the scruffy star ‘Monte’ of The Lady and the Tramp, and thus of a dog that in a few months went from a kill shelter in New Mexico to the set of a Disney film8, may inspire movie watchers to adopt dogs from shelters rather than to buy them from breeders, which is a huge issue in the current times.

Monte was discovered at a shelter in Arizona and whisked to Hollywood to star in Disney’s Lady and the Tramp (Source: telegraph.co.uk)

So, no need to feel bad for watching movies starring animals, though it’s always nice to be critical, especially when watching movies that depict a negative rather than positive image of the starring animals to the audience. This would be the case for movies such as Jaws, which today is still thought to negatively influence media portrayals and public perception of sharks -though this movie’s key role in fuelling interest and research on the ecology of sharks worldwide is also recognised9

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References

1. https://www.nytimes.com/1997/09/14/us/after-movies-unwanted-dalmatians.html

2. https://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2016/05/10/the-finding-nemo-effect-is-plundering-wild-clown-fish-stocks_a_21374786/?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAIO5mxUPvVveGEtnNCla4KZ2xiM4lsS9Ebfc7C8VDHgHrVoHUQ8kVfbCfDKku3MWm8iTIgecwtvk7_hwbN6iwlsY2co3UEBRhtrjei9iizZir8RBXKCKGbENrbMSwtVTWScYf57Pp3kM5_lpUTW4EFMsgg04PgW5ozJwqbWgerw9

3. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/05/18/finding-nemo-wasnt-so-entertaining-for-real-clownfish-now-conservationists-worry-about-finding-dory/

4. Herzog, H., 2006. Forty-two thousand and one Dalmatians: Fads, social contagion, and dog breed popularity. Society & animals14(4), pp.383-397. https://doi.org/10.1163/156853006778882448

5. Militz, T.A. and Foale, S., 2017. The “Nemo Effect”: perception and reality of Finding Nemo’s impact on marine aquarium fisheries. Fish and Fisheries18(3), pp.596-606. https://doi.org/10.1111/faf.12202

6. Veríssimo, D., Anderson, S. and Tlusty, M., 2019. Did the movie Finding Dory increase demand for blue tang fish?. Ambio, pp.1-9. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13280-019-01233-7

7. http://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2019-08-14-%E2%80%9C-nemo-effect%E2%80%9D-untrue-animal-movies-promote-awareness-not-harm-say-researchers

8. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/08/23/disney-makes-shelter-mutt-hollywood-star-new-version-lady-tramp/

9. Francis, B., 2012. BEFORE AND AFTER” JAWS”: CHANGING REPRESENTATIONS OF SHARK ATTACKS. The Great Circle34(2), pp.44-64.

10. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2003/nov/21/environment.film

11. https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/finding-nemo-pets-harm-ocean-ecology-5355796.html

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