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rare female film critic | 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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