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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

‘Evan Almighty’ versus Planet Earth, or not

So, Steve Carell as a modern-day Noah? That’s the premise of Evan Almighty, the sequel to Bruce Almighty opening June 22. I predict numerous jokes about poop and who’s going to be doing the mucking out on Evan’s 21st-century ark.

As soon as the yabbering over Spider-Man 3’s costs and earnings dies down, be on the lookout for the same for Evan: it’s reportedly the most expensive comedy ever made, costing perhaps as much as $175 million. Where’d all that money go? Monkeys, and more. Lots of live exotic animals were used in the production, and they don’t come cheap.

But they don’t come dear enough for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which has been fighting Hollywood’s use and misuse of animals, and in particular monkeys and primates, for years. Bob Chorush, a spokesperson for PETA, carpet-bombed media press yesterday with an email that reads, in part:

Although the film — which is the most expensive comedy ever made — may recoup its production cost, the damage done to the hundreds of exotic animals used in the film cannot be compensated. If you review this film, we kindly ask that you consider conveying to your readers that its use of animals is cruel, costly, and unnecessary.

According to the company’s Web site, Birds & Animals Unlimited supplied animals for Evan Almighty. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has issued four official warnings to Birds & Animals for its chronic failure to comply with veterinary care requirements, failure to provide shelter from heat and sunlight, and failure to maintain enclosures to prevent escape. A few years ago, a child actor filed a lawsuit against Birds & Animals when he was bitten in the face by a chimpanzee….

The American Humane Association gives its stamp of approval to a production that uses animals based on the short amount of time that the animals are on the set and does not take into account abusive training prior to production, trainer convictions for animal-related offenses, violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act, or long-term living conditions for animals who are no longer used in productions. PETA has found former “celebrity” chimpanzees living in filth at roadside zoos. Great apes are typically discarded by Hollywood trainers around age 8, when they become too powerful to control — despite the fact that these animals can live to be 60 years old.

Computer-generated images, animatronics, green screens, puppets, costumed actors, models, and stock footage have been used instead of live animals with great success in productions such as 2001, Jurassic Park, and King Kong. Very few live animals were used in Night at the Museum.

Well, that’s disturbing. I’m a committed carnivore, but I’m also an animal lover and pet owner — excuse me, companion-animal owner. What does Universal say about this? Seen at Canada.com:

Universal Studios, which is releasing Evan Almighty, said the welfare of the animals was of the utmost priority and the production was monitored by an inspector from the Humane Society.

“The live animals used in the filming of Evan Almighty were supplemented by a great number of computer-generated animals, but it would have been impossible to depend on CGI exclusively as some key scenes in the film demonstrate the need for peaceful and productive co-existence between man and animals,” Universal said in a statement.

“One of the most prominent, inescapable messages of the film is the responsibility that humans have to protect and care for animals.”

A big corporation wouldn’t lie to us, would it? And look: Evan is also the first “zero-emission” Hollywood production, and Universal is sponsoring a program through which you can donate five bucks and get a tree planted in your name, and the Evan-related site Get on Board offers all sorts of tips for going green.

So it’s all good, right? No monkeys were harmed in the making of Evan Almighty, right? Monkeys are our friends…

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  • David C

    A big corporation (or a small one, or a big individual, or a medium-sized one, or…) might lie to us, but PETA *certainly* would, based on past performance, and I wouldn’t take anything they say at face value without independent verification.

  • JSW

    The fact that PETA alludes to situations where animals were mistreated by this company while not providing any specifics that would allow people to check their claims raises a lot of red flags for me. If there was a lawsuit filed due to the chimpanzee bite, why was the name of the lawsuit not given in the e-mail? It would have only taken a small aside in parenthesis to provide that information.

    Likewise they claim to have “found former ‘celebrity’ chimpanzees living in filth at roadside zoos” but again fail to give any specifics. The names of the zoos and the date the chimpanzees were found would have been all the information that they’d need to allow someone to verify their claims, but that information was never given. Do they not want people to be able to check to see if anything that they say is actually true?

  • …I’m a committed carnivore.
    –MaryAnn Johanson

    Actually I thought most humans were omnivorous.

  • MaryAnn

    Surprisingly enough, Tonio, I eat nothing but raw bloody steaks and roasted kittens.

  • PaulW

    Dangit, MaryAnn, I thought we agreed on an all-turkey diet. You know, any and all films by Colman Francis, Michael Bay, Uwe Boll, and George Lucas’ Howard the Duck…

  • David C

    “If there was a lawsuit filed due to the chimpanzee bite, why was the name of the lawsuit not given in the e-mail?”

    And that’s not even the first weaseliness in the sentence to jump out at me:

    “A few years ago, a child actor filed a lawsuit against Birds & Animals when he was bitten in the face by a chimpanzee….”

    “Filing a lawsuit” is trivially easy and meaningless. I could file a lawsuit today against Steve Carell alleging that he used the Orbital Mind Control Lasers against me through the fillings in my teeth in order to force me to invest my life savings in beet futures. Cranks and lunatics file lawsuits every day.

    Now, the “child actor’s” suit may have more validity than that, but what *happened* in the suit? I’m guessing the child actor lost, or the case was thrown out. Otherwise PETA would have used stronger verbs than “filed”, like “won” or “forced a settlement.”

    But for PETA and so many of their ilk, mere factual truth must take a back seat to the “greater truth” (as defined by PETA, of course.)

  • David C

    I just tried to do a quick Google for more info on the lawsuit and got this (also from a PETA source):

    June 8, 1998: According to the Los Angeles Times, Birds & Animals Unlimited was among the defendants named in a lawsuit brought after a chimpanzee bit a 12-year-old actor on the face, causing a scar, during the filming of Jungle Book: Mowgli’s Story.

    1998 = “a few years ago”?
    The suit would almost certainly be resolved by now. Couldn’t find any other references to such a suit, or what happened with it, on a quick Google search.

  • bats

    “A child actor”? Damn, that’s what happened to Haley Joel Osment — eaten by weasels!

  • Reuben

    It’s amazing to me the lengths of denial that people will go to when they don’t want to learn. Really? PETA isn’t providing details of primates abandoned in
    horrific situations after they get too old or uncooperative to perform, so it isn’t happening? Perhaps we have an obligation to do a little research ourselves and to find out what happens when animals are trained: how they come to be in Hollywood in the first place (often stolen from their families in the wild, as babies), the methods of training (with elephants, they are beaten with bullhooks and electric prods, denied food and water and the opportunity to
    move as nature intended), and – yes – what happens to them later. And how they are living now – in enclosures far too small for their mental and physical health, deprived of companionship, dying of problems that don’t occur in the wild. And again, before you all jump on this post for not providing specifics, why don’t you make the effort to find some of this stuff out for yourselves, rather than insisting that it doesn’t happen because all the details aren’t being spoonfed to you. Start with visiting http://www.morebeautifulwild.org, or http://www.wildlifepimps.com, and take it from there.

  • Reuben, if someone wants to prove something to me, then it’s up to them to provide the evidence. I’m not saying the abuse PETA mention doesn’t happen, but I want evidence and not vague generalisations. Darwin didn’t come back from the Galapagos Islands and say “OMG! There’s freakin’ birds and stuff that are all like, different! Go look!”

  • “Likewise they claim to have “found former ‘celebrity’ chimpanzees living in filth at roadside zoos” but again fail to give any specifics.”

    Took me about 6 seconds to find some specifics: it’s called the Amarillo Wildlife Refuge (although according to PETA and the images provided on their website, it is certainly no “refuge”), the investigation took place in 2003, and a chimpanzee named Chubbs was living there who appeared in Planet of the Apes. I don’t know if there were investigations of other similar places, but that was the first thing I found. Check out the photos section of that page. Maggots, dead and decomposing rabbits, and Chubbs, the chimpanzee from Planet of the Apes.

    “A big corporation … might lie to us, but PETA *certainly* would”

    If PETA was lying about anything stated in that letter, they would have been sued for libel by now. Plain and simple. I don’t see any reference to that happening anywhere.

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