Films have long been inviting us to rethink the way we view animals—a studious spider who weaves words about saving a pig from the dinner plate, a terrified baby elephant yanked from his mother and forced to perform in a circus, a clownfish who journeys far across the ocean to rescue a son swiped from his home and plopped in a fish tank.
Ask advocates what first inspired their compassion for animals, and often they recall a story like one of these. Charlotte’s Web, Dumbo, Finding Nemo, and countless other movies over the years have presented a glimpse inside the hearts and minds of beings we often overlook. Although the characters are fictional, their emotions are real and relatable—drawing a connection in even the youngest of hearts that calls us to regard all animals with respect. The stories introduce us to issues of animal protection, and they open doors to broader conversations about the ways in which we as humans must do better.
This week, a new film contributes to understanding about threats to animals. In Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature, which opens Friday, a resourceful squirrel stops at nothing to save his habitat from development. A profit-hungry mayor plans to rip out the city park to build an amusement park, highlighting a very real problem for wildlife.
Habitat loss is the single greatest threat to wildlife around the world. When bulldozers move in to clear space for another shopping center or condo development, the animals have no choice but to flee. And that’s if they’re not crushed or buried before they’re flushed. Squirrels, owls, and other birds are killed when their lofty treetop homes come crashing down to earth. Gopher tortoises, who burrow themselves deep in the sandy soil of the southeast, are often buried alive by development, entombed forever under the foundation of a big-box retailer or housing complex. (That’s a very familiar issue to us at The HSUS, given our efforts to dig out and save more than 5,000 gopher tortoises.)
The stakes are high for so many animals, and so many adults don’t like to think about how our daily activities produce these effects. It’s a weighty problem for kids to comprehend, so how does a children’s movie even begin to approach the subject without being preachy or overbearing? The answer: with a purple squirrel named Surly and his band of charismatic friends. Chipmunks, pigeons, woodchucks, squirrels, a rat, a mole, and a pug all refuse to “tuck tail and run” from the mayor’s horrible plan. When obstacles mount, Surly and an army of mice put aside their differences and collaborate on an elaborate plan to take back the park.
While filled with slapstick humor and silly antics, the film burrows into our consciousness. The mayor’s mansion is decorated with the heads of exotic animals and his chair is flanked by two gigantic elephant tusks, while his daughter is unkind to her dog and delights in shooting at animals with a sling shot. The storyline forces adults to think about the ramifications of sprawling development, trophy hunting and inhumane wildlife control practices and it offers a starting point for conversations with kids about how to treat animals.
It also illustrates the power of perseverance. Here at The HSUS, we fight the big fights against opponents very much like that mayor—opponents who seek to harm animals in the name of profit. With you alongside us, we are creating a more humane economy and protecting all animals, including the victims of habitat destruction. Individually we might be small, Surly says, “but together, we are giants.” I couldn’t agree more.
Movies like this—and Charlotte’s Web, Bambi, and Dumbo and all of the others that planted the seeds of awareness and action—change the cultural atmospherics in our society for the better, orienting them around our issues. We are the creature of conscience, and we are also the creators of so much pain and suffering for animals. We must decide to be one or the other. The task of protecting animals’ homes—and their very lives—requires our determined, collective efforts. To do anything less is, well, just plain nuts.
You can help us continue to protect all animals and their homes by texting NUTJOB to 20222.*