'The Elephant in the Living Room'

'The Elephant in the Living Room' examines the question of whether or not exotic animals should be kept as pets.

NR, 4 stars

“You don’t have to go to

Africa to see a lion, “ says Tim Harrison, an Ohio policeman

and animal rescue expert. “You don’t have to go to Canada

to see a bear. You go to Anywhere, USA, and those animals will be

there.”

Harrison says that he used to receive

around six animal rescue calls per year. Since the reality TV boom of

the ‘90s — which brought personalities like Steve Erwin

and Jeff Corwin into the American living room — his calls rose

to about 100 per year. The Elephant in the Living Room shows us that

these lions, tigers and bears might be living closer to home than you

might imagine.

Directed by documentary-newbie Mike

Webber, the film examines the issue of exotic animal ownership, in

which the likes of Bengal tigers and Amazonian pythons are kept as

domesticated pets. This topic has been bubbling below the media’s

surface for some time now, with plenty of gay marriage and gun

control debates sprouting up to fill the national spot light. But

there are two passionate sides to this argument, with a line clearly

drawn between.

Webber centers his narrative on a pair

of Ohio men who give each side of the argument a truly personal

perspective. Tim Harrison is one of them, and he makes his position

clear. While sympathetic to the folks who love their “wild”

animals (he sheltered several abandoned cougars who were in between

homes), he thinks that owning them should be illegal. It's a

potential danger not only to human beings, but to the animals

themselves.

Terry Brumfield is on the other side of

the argument, an endearing fellow whose own lion cub helped him cope

with depression following a serious injury in a tractor accident. He

named it Lambert. With his shaggy head of hair and his wild beard,

Terry’s a lovable Cowardly Lion himself. He understands that

owning Lambert may be dangerous, but Lambert’s healthy and is

his only marker of happiness amid bouts of serious depression.

Despite their differences, Harrison and

Brumfield share moments of camaraderie — while looking in on

Lambert’s cage, they see that his female counterpart, Lacie,

has had cubs. No more arguments, no more fights, only the smiles of

the two men as they are at their core: animal lovers.

Sleek and technically proficient, the

film trades clever graphics and animated pie charts for heartfelt

conversations and intelligent debates. The Elephant in the Living

Room starts strong and ends stronger, growing more complex as it

trucks along, all the while asking: Is exotic wildlife ownership an

animal problem, or a people problem?

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