he result of the flaws in the AHA’s process — from its selection of monitors to the restrictions on their work and the organization’s resistance to aggressively investigate alleged animal mistreatment — calls into question the film ratings published on the organization’s website, which assess the quality and scope of animal welfare on productions, and the “No Animals Were Harmed” credit itself.
Given the end credit’s blunt declarative statement, there would not appear to be much wiggle room. But interviews with AHA sources, along with internal documents, suggest that the AHA repeatedly has presented a more positive picture of what transpired on productions than its own monitors’ internal logs would justify. Sources say that the end credit disclaimers are adjudicated, and film-rating reviews composed, without the input of the monitors who were actually on set during production, and sometimes without even reviewing their reports. (The AHA denies this.) Indeed, they say there is no set formula governing such findings, which in the end have in certain cases been determined by executives who are overly concerned with how such decisions may affect the organization’s industry relationships.
“The AHA does not explain why the films get the ratings they do to hide the fact that they do not give them accurately across the board and that special relationships may be taken into account,” says one staffer. “Management pressures postproduction [its department responsible for the assessments] to give good reviews. Even relationships that aren’t special yet might be in the future, and they don’t want to rock the boat.”
For example, Disney’s Eight Below was awarded the end credit despite a March 21, 2005, incident report that noted: “The hero dog seriously got into a fight with two other dogs. The trainer beat the dog harshly, which included five punches to its diaphragm. Our rep spoke to him about this, and he expressed that he had no choice. The office instructed [the rep] to pull the dog.” In its statement to THR, the AHA says, “The trainer had to use force to break up the fight. As a result, the dogs were not injured.” The AHA rep also asked for more trainers to be on set.
On another Disney project, 2008’s The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, horses repeatedly were pulled from production for lameness and injuries — AHA internal database notes from June 23, 2007, show that 14 were out of commission at once — with problems ranging from a sore tail and a sore back to a “wound on nose.” Yet the production still received the “No Animals Were Harmed” disclaimer. According to AHA’s statement to THR, the end credit was justified because “none of the injuries were serious and none were due to intentional harm.”
In another incident, 2005’s Son of the Mask, from New Line, received the end credit, though a Feb. 2, 2004, incident filing reveals that “most of the fish died today that were under the care and control of the prop department. [Rep] said they died when the prop department totally changed the water in the tank and replaced it with town tap water.” Again, the AHA says in its statement, the credit was bestowed because “we believed this was not an intentional act of cruelty,” though it also added that the organization “today would not evaluate it in the same way.”
In an interview with THR, Candy Spelling, a national AHA board member, defends the organization’s intent behind the “No Animals Were Harmed” end credit. “I think what people think [it means] is that when a horse dies in the movies, it didn’t really die,” she says. “I think that people think [the AHA’s monitoring] is just when the cameras are rolling.” As for her interpretation of the end credit, she says, “I assume that no animals were harmed during the shooting.”