By Chantelle Kerwin
To set the scene, I’m sitting on the sofa with my enthusiastic little nephews and we’ve settled in to watch a movie of their choice – 20th Century Fox’s Ferdinand released in 2017. Disney released a short film in 1939 featuring the same character so I was already familiar with it having watched everything Disney produced as a child.
I enjoyed this movie, it was light-hearted and consistently made me laugh. However the main character is a bull and as someone who is currently working within the red meat industry space, there were many thoughts going through my head while watching. For context, Ferdinand is a bull being raised for bullfighting in Spain and failing to do this he will be sent to ‘the chophouse’ which is referenced in the movie. There is even a whole scene depicting what it’s like in an abattoir, see photo 1 below.
Photo 1, El Guapo – one of the characters who was sent to the chophouse/abattoir (source YouTube)
Where am I going with this? Stick with me, Disney’s Ferdinand the bull won the Academy Award in 1939 for best cartoon short as it won the hearts and minds of the audience. Mickey Mouse, arguably one of the most recognisable and profitable characters on the planet, came out in 1928. We have been giving animals, human characteristics as far back as the 1920s for our own entertainment and profit.
This is not a new concept, but in modern times the search for new and original content and the evolution of human nature is a constant question. Movies surrounding the mysterious life of animals has always been a consistently popular theme amongst children and adults alike. Check out the definition of Anthropomorphism. Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human traits, emotions, or intentions to non-human entities. It is considered to be an innate tendency of human psychology.
Is this trend harmful to primary industries?
This begs the question, has this trend ultimately been harmful to the agricultural, biodiversity and zoological industries? Or has it had the opposite effect and encouraged the general public to do more research and form their own opinions?
Circling back to Ferdinand, as human beings we spend so much time trying to find our purpose in life, many of us having an existential crisis at some point. This sentiment was explored amongst the bulls in the movie with Ferdinand leading the way. He encourages his competitors and later friends to fight for their right to choose what kind of life to lead (finding other ways to live that don’t require fighting or being turned into meat).
The underlying theme for this movie is to love yourself for who you are and to follow your dreams
This is a wonderful concept to be teaching children, but by inserting these very human struggles and ideals into an animal that we have traditionally bred for food, going to change the minds of any children or adults watching? El Guapo the bull pictured in photo 1 was sent to the chophouse or abattoir but Ferdinand and his friends save him from this ‘devastating’ fate. The viewers (and me) responded with relief as understandably so, we would never wish this kind of fate for our friends and family. After watching, however, I had to ask myself can a movie like this stop someone from ever eating beef again?
Photo 2, Ferdinand the bull is content with being himself (source YouTube)
An unnecessary analysis of a kids movie?
On a personal level, I’ve spent my whole life watching animated movies like this and don’t see myself stopping just because it’s an unnatural concept. To me, watching an animal with human characteristics is good viewing. In terms of eating meat, this is also something I’ve done my whole life and it provides the nutritional value and tastes that I require.
Ultimately the movies we watch is a personal choice and the same concept applies to what we choose to put on our plates. However, I do believe this kind of movie and many others like it can and will stop a percentage of viewers from ever eating beef or meat again. This movie has a run time of 108 minutes and there is a huge amount of emotion packed into it, which can have significant effects on the viewer.
Sometimes a movie is just a movie. Other times they have been intentionally created to challenge the views of the average person
If this piece has made you think about the impact of cartoons, I’ve listed some other productions featuring farm animals and livestock which did change my thinking, however temporary it may have been at the time.
Babe is the first movie that introduced me to what living on a farm might be like. At the time, it inspired me to want a pet piglet. This is not practical or advisable for those living in the suburbs of Perth!
Chicken Run was one of my favourites and I admittedly (as a 9-year-old), did stop eating chicken for about a week after the first watch.
Peter Rabbit is such a beloved English classic, however, in the agricultural world rabbits can be seen as pests right? We sympathise with Peter and his family because of their lovable nature even though they are stealing produce from the local farmer.
Barnyard was funny, I don’t remember having much of an opinion on this one. I do however recall the strangest part of this movie being the masculine characters who are clearly voiced by males but anatomically female (udders and all). This could be a reference to the most common term in the general public for cattle being cows. The farmers are portrayed as villains in this movie.