In the new animated film Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, owls are portrayed mostly as noble creatures who glide majestically through the air while clad in ornate headgear. But even the most casual observer of the animal kingdom knows that this depiction couldn’t be further from reality. In truth, owls are ferocious predators whose reputation for savagery is such that National Geographic nicknamed them “the bastards of the forest.” They’re far too busy terrorizing the cuter animals of the forest, like bunny rabbits and baby ducklings, to care about funny metal helmets or other superfluous fashion accessories. (Incidentally, they do speak with Australian accents. At least the film got THAT part right.)
This discrepancy might be amusing if it didn’t hold such potential for tragedy. Picture the poor young lad who, fresh from a birthday viewing of Legend of the Guardians (in 3D!), innocently approaches one of these vicious winged beasts and attempts to stroke its soft, velvety plumage, only to get his face ripped off by a pair of razor-sharp talons. Happy birthday, junior; I hope you like skin grafts.
This kind of blatant — and possibly dangerous — misrepresentation of the animal kingdom by anthropomorphic characters is nothing new to Hollywood, which has long adhered to the shameful practice in its animated films. Here are a few more disturbing examples from recent memory.
As seen in: Ratatouille, Flushed Away
Usually depicted as plucky and earnest dreamers
In reality they’re disease-ridden sociopaths. After nearly wiping out the whole of Europe in the middle ages with a particularly sinister germ warfare campaign dubbed the “Black Plague,” rats went global with their war on humanity, displaying a particular fondness for the impoverished peoples of the world. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the furry rodents are responsible for “perpetuating a cycle of poverty and disease” in developing nations via their vast arsenal of deadly diseases. Forget ratatouille; the only dish these these genocidal fiends are fit to serve is a heaping bowl of slow, agonizing death.
As seen in: Madagascar, The Lion King
Usually depicted as heroic and principled leaders
In reality they’re lazy and libidinous baby-killers. According to researchers, male lions are known to sleep for up to 20 hours a day. What makes them so tired? Casual sex — and lots of it. Their waking hours are primarily spent presiding over their harem, or “pride,” which typically consists of between five and 10 females, and trolling the savanna for fresh tail. Single moms need to be especially wary of these licentious louts: The African Wildlife Foundation states that “males with newly won prides will often kill existing cubs, enabling them to sire their own.” The so-called “Circle of Life” doesn’t sound nearly as poetic once you realize that it refers to the slaughter of innocent children.
As seen in: Happy Feet, Surf’s Up
Usually depicted as playful and fun-loving jesters
In reality they’re apathetic gluttons. Experts in evolutionary biology will tell you that penguins were once svelte flyers. But centuries of overindulging on Antarctica’s vast seafood buffet, combined with a primarily sedentary lifestyle, caused their wings to atrophy and their waistlines to expand, turning them into flightless, waddling tubs of goo. Nowadays, they have barely enough energy to stuff their fat faces, let alone participate in such strenuous activities as dancing or surfing. In a nation grappling with a childhood obesity epidemic, are these the kinds of role models we want our pre-diabetic young people to follow?
As seen in: Garfield: The Movie, The Aristocats
Usually depicted as loyal and resourceful companions
In reality they’re scheming and manipulative parasites. Cats have been known to gather in the homes of older single women, where they join forces to infect their hosts with the devastating brain disease dementia felinus, or “cat lady syndrome.” Early symptoms of the disease include lax grooming habits, slurring and incoherent speech, and chronic crankiness. Eventually, victims withdraw from society completely, emerging from seclusion only to berate the occasional solicitor.