Anthony Armentano, Global Animal
Writer/Director Todd Phillips’ third installment of The Hangover Trilogy certainly has its moments, but falls far short of capturing the magic that made the first film so charming. And in its portrayal of animals, it plummets down a dark and nasty path, never to recover.
The Hangover III sets out to deliver an original story, diverging its path from the derivative, carbon copy that was The Hangover II. The strongest parts of Hangover III rest with the overwhelmingly talented cast, once again proving their strong comedic chemistry. It’s a shame to see these actors wasted on a script far below their talent.
There are many scenes in Hangover III that are supposed to be funny, but are merely ghastly or cruel, depicting the deaths of numerous animals. The Hangover franchise is no stranger to criticism regarding its utilization of animals. Both prior films have garnered disapproval from various animal rights groups surrounding the franchise’s use of a tiger and a capuchin monkey.
But the first two films in the series are tame compared to the third, and thankfully last, installment. The animals present in The Hangover and The Hangover II were relevant to the plot, served the story, and actually delivered their share of harmless laughter. Inexplicably, Hangover III swaps good humor for cruelty when it comes to scenes involving animals.
Like the first film, Hangover III has earned an official stamp of approval from the American Humane Association (AHA) when it comes to the treatment of animals on set—a tag the second film lacked due to international filming. Hangover III goes to show the AHA’s approval doesn’t guarantee the dignity of the animals involved. In fact, the majority of scenes with animals in the movie end in gruesome deaths.
It starts bad and gets worse. During the film’s second scene one of the principle characters, Alan (Zach Galifianakis), drives down the highway with a giraffe on an open trailer attached to the back of his convertible. As Alan drives underneath an overpass, the giraffe gets decapitated, embedding its head in the windshield of another vehicle, and causing a major traffic collision.
Being a combination of in-studio work and CGI, it’s important to note the giraffe was never actually in harms way. In fact, during the scene, the use of a studio green screen instead of an actual highway is so apparent, it hardly qualifies as movie magic.
It’s unclear whether Phillips actually expects laughter from this terrible scene, or if he’s just simply acting out against the negativity from animal rights groups to the previous Hangover films. This scene serves no plot purpose, consequences never come of it, and it’s rarely mentioned again. And when it is mentioned, it’s only to mock the criticisms Phillips has faced.
Once the other characters find out that Alan has inadvertently decapitated a giraffe, Phil (Bradley Cooper) exclaims, “I thought it was pretty funny. He killed a giraffe, who gives a ****?”
Whether this particular scene is supposed to achieve laughter, or create an infantile jab at the director’s personal critics, it just doesn’t work (it played to silence in the theater I was in). Phillips takes a second shot at critics, when Stu (Ed Helms) gets chastised for not wanting to murder two dogs. Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) then derogatorily likens Stu to a member of PETA.
Throughout the course of the film, roosters and dogs also perish at the hands of the main characters. When a group of roosters break out of their cages, and proceed to attack the principle cast, they just have to die. No actual roosters were ever put in danger on set, and animatronic roosters were used in place of actual ones when appropriate. Nevertheless, once again this scene ends with the on-screen deaths of animals when Mr. Chow proceeds to shoot two of the roosters, then smothers a third one to death with a pillow. Thankfully, the dogs are killed off-screen.
The Hangover III poses some interesting questions about the film industry and its relationship with animals. If animals aren’t harmed in the making of a film, does the purpose they serve in the context of the movie matter? If an imaginary animal meets harm on-screen, what is the problem? Does it diminish the overall respect we have for real animals?
It’s not always a black-and-white issue and we like to think Global Animals have a sense of humor. Sanctimony about the death of CGI animals is a bit weird. But in the context of being in the planet’s sixth extinction, where large mammals are killed for their horns (rhinos and elephants), or bled for their gall bladders (bears), or hunted mercilessly (tigers), we feel it’s important to portray these majestic animals with the respect they deserve.
Movies, it has been shown over and over, affect human behavior and consciousness, from changing undershirt styles after It Happened One Night to increased enlistment after Top Gun. Todd Phillips knows creating an attitude of cruel disposability toward wildlife affects people. We don’t have to care because, ha, animals are just there for our amusement (circuses) or exploitation (the fur trade) or consumption (just about every animal on the planet). Why not use his skills to celebrate animals?
Reducing them to punchlines for cheap laughs is…well… cheap. And not funny.