The iconic family movie “Babe” caused many people to think twice about eating bacon, including the movie’s lead actor, James Cromwell, who went vegan after shooting the movie. While as adults, we’ve watched “Blackfish” to learn the evils of keeping whales in captivity, as kids, “Free Willy” delivered a similar message. “Bambi” was the first movie many of us saw an animal die – a mother no less, and we couldn’t see hunting the same way after meeting that orphaned fawn. For the girly set, “Legally Blonde: Red, White, and Blonde” reminded us all that we can look great without having our lip gloss tested on animals (go, Elle!). But pro-animal themes slip into many movies unnoticed. Take a look at these eight examples of hidden animal rights messages that you may have missed:
While typically thought of as an environmentalist movie, this “bodacious” 90s cult hit has an important character who exemplifies the problems with animal testing: Batty, the former lab bat voiced by the late Robin Williams.
“I been brain-fried, electrified, ‘fected and injectified, vivisectified, and fed pesticide,” Batty raps (yes, Robin Williams raps) when he meets fairies and other animals, who wonder about the bolt in his head. The physical ramifications of the experiments torment poor Batty, who seizes, lurches, and occasionally transmits radio signal as he raps lines like “They used and abused me, battered and bruised me! Red wires, green wires, stuck ‘em right through me!”
In this extended version on YouTube below, you can hear Robin Williams rap a part of the song that was cut out of the movie (appropriately, since it was made for children), in which he flashes back to the details of his horrible abuse, done by “grad students.” Some of the experiments he describes are cosmetic testing (“when the eye makeup is inserted rectally” – yikes). The message is clear: animals are terrified and suffering beyond our imagination when being tested on.
His advice to the woodland creatures? “Exercise a little prudence when dealing with… humans.”
Lady and the Tramp (1955)
This beloved cartoon romance already boasts one iconic – and oft-recreated – scene, in which the lead pups eat spaghetti together. But there’s yet another classic scene, one that takes place in a “pound” or animal shelter, that uses the fantasy of dogs harmonizing their howls to illustrate the very real plight of dogs in shelters:
“Lady and the Tramp” pays homage to the millions of animals who are euthanized in shelters each year because people buy from breeders instead of adopting or neglecting to spay and neuter. In one scene, we see a dog named Nutsy being walked down the corridor toward a room that says “Keep Out.” Just like real dogs in real shelters, Nutsy is excited because he thinks he’s finally free, just happy to be out of a cage –and just like in real life, “poor ‘ol Nutsy” is going to be killed because no one wanted him. “He’s taking the long walk,” the other dogs whisper sadly as they see him go by.
Doc Hollywood (1991)
In this otherwise inoffensive little rom-com, Michael J. Fox goes vegetarian to impress a vegetarian girl: a classic move. He shows his colors are true when he saves a pig from being butchered later in the movie.
But our favorite character in the movie is the girl who inspired Fox’s character in the first place, Lou. She sabotages a hunt by peeing – yes, dropping trou in a way that only an early-90’s movie can make tasteful – all over a popular hunting site, to “scare away the deer.”
Fly Away Home (1996)
This sweet movie about a girl who rescues orphaned geese – and teaches them to fly – is clearly pro-animal, but there are some strong messages we may have forgotten since childhood. Even in the trailer, the little, kick-butt protagonist – played by a tiny Anna Paquin – is shown refusing to let a game warden clip the wings of her precious flock. He holds nail clippers up to one of the goslings’ tiny wings in a monstrous attempt to “render him flightless,” which is the law when keeping domestic birds, and Amy reacts how any of us might: by slamming him in the head with a bowl of popcorn. Jeff Daniels, as her father, kicks the warden out, because he knows that when injured, animals suffer just as much as we do.
The Stranger (1946)
This black-and-white film noir was made by famed director and actor Orson Welles, right after World War II, about a Nazi hiding out in small town New England. The film stays true to that Hollywood adage, “the dog can’t die,” but with a twist: the dog does die, killed by the aforementioned Nazi, and it’s considered by the investigating detective to be murder. When asked by the young man who found the lifeless family pet, “What does the law say about this kind of murder? Is it the same as killing a man?” the detective replies, “It oughta be. It’s just as bad.” For 1946, this statement is a bold testament toward empathy for animals.
101 Dalmatians (1961)
Not so “secret,” but worth mentioning for this reason: many of our peers who loved this movie as children seem to have forgotten that Cruela De Vil was a villain, not a fashion icon. With her long cigarette, insane hair, and general bad attitude, Cruela’s indiscriminate hunt for fur to wear highlights an important fact: fur that comes from foxes, rabbits, or mink might as well come from puppies –they’re all sentient beings who feel pain and fear, and, like the puppies at the end of the movie, joy! Check out how unglamorous fur looks on humans (even cartoon ones) in this clip:
It’s amazing that so often the characters we love in movies are also the ones that show kindness to animals. Even if you’ve already seen these films, it’s inspiring to view them again to catch these hidden messages that aim to connect viewers with our furry and feathered friends. Share this article to help others see a new perspective on an old film.
Featured image source: DisneyScreenCaps