The premiere for A Dog’s Purpose has been canceled following outrage and controversy sparked by troubling footage which emerged on Wednesday showing Hercules, one of the upcoming movie’s canine stars, being forced to enter into turbulent water on the movie set.
Universal Picture and Amblin Entertainment decided to cancel Saturday’s premiere for the movie in Los Angeles, pending full review of the disturbing footage, according to TMZ.
The decision to cancel the premiere was due to fears of possible backlash after animal welfare groups, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), called for a boycott of the upcoming movie.
“Because Amblin’s review into the edited video released yesterday is still ongoing, distributor Universal Pictures has decided it is in the best interest of A Dog’s Purpose to cancel this weekend’s premiere and press junket.”
Footage obtained by TMZ and posted online on Wednesday shows Hercules, a German shepherd dog, obviously in distress as his trainer tried repeatedly to force him to enter into turbulent flowing water simulating river rapids. Hercules, one of five dogs used in A Dog’s Purpose, struggled desperately (see video below) to avoid entering the water by clinging to the edge of the pool.
The footage, reportedly taken on set in Winnipeg, Canada, in November 2015, went viral after it surfaced online on Wednesday, sparking outrage and controversy. Most viewers agreed that the footage shows Hercules the German shepherd dog being “abused” on set.
TMZ reported that Amblin Entertainment and Universal Pictures said they were reviewing the footage to determine exactly what happened on set on the day the footage was taken. The studios later released a statement, saying that despite concern about the dog’s welfare, he “was not harmed throughout the film-making.”
“Since the emergence of the footage, Amblin has engaged with many associated with the production of the film, including safety personnel, trainers, and stunt coordinators as part of their in-depth review,” the statement said, according to Variety. “While we are all disheartened by the appearance of an animal in distress, everyone has assured us that Hercules the German shepherd was not harmed throughout the filmmaking.”
But critics countered, saying that the video clearly shows a terrified dog unwilling to enter the water and his trainer trying, repeatedly, to force him to enter against his will.
A person standing off camera can be heard laughing despite the disturbing scene.
“Don’t worry, it is warm water at least. He ain’t gonna calm down until he goes in the water… you just gotta throw him in,” the person said.
As the trainer tried to lower the dog into the water, he struggled and managed to pull himself out.
“He gets his feet wet, learns it’s not cold. He wants to get away, just throw him in,” the voice said, laughing. “[The trainer] is going to end up going in with him.”
When the dog was eventually forced to enter the water, he became submerged. The film crew appeared to panic. Two people jumped into the pool to rescue the dog while someone could he heard shouting “Cut it! Cut it!”
The American Humane Association (AHA) told People that after seeing the footage, it suspended the safety representative assigned to the movie set.
“When the dog showed signs of resistance to jumping in the water, the scene should have been stopped.”
The organization said that it was hiring an independent investigator to assess the circumstances surrounding the footage. But many animal advocates said that it was clear from the footage that Hercules had not been trained properly for his movie role.
A statement released by the studios contested the claim that Hercules was not properly trained and prepared to play his role in the movie. The statement insisted that “great care” was taken to prepare the dog.
“There were several days of rehearsal of the water scenes to ensure Hercules was comfortable with all of the stunts,” the statement said. “On the day of the shoot, Hercules did not want to perform the stunt portrayed on the tape so the Amblin production team did not proceed with filming that shot.”
However, a statement by the Winnipeg Humane Society insisted that the dog was “fearful and not properly trained for this experience.”
“Training for a scene like this should take place weeks – if not months – in advance to help a dog get comfortable with not only being in water of that depth, but also the turbulence,” the organization said.
Director Lasse Hallstrom and actor Josh Gad, 35, who voiced one of the dogs in the movie, both called for an investigation into the video.
Hallstrom insisted that as an “animal lover” and rights advocate who has shot several animal movies, he gave utmost priority to animal safety.
“I have been a lifelong animal lover and A Dog’s Purpose is my third film about dogs. The animals’ safety was of utmost priority,” Hallstrom said. “I have been promised that a thorough investigation into this situation is underway and that any wrongdoing will be reported and punished.”
Gad, who was not on set at the time of the incident, described the footage as “sad” and “disturbing.”
“I am shaken and sad to see any animal put in a situation against its will,” the actor said.
But meanwhile, PETA has issued a statement calling for a boycott of A Dog’s Purpose, according to Hollywood Reporter. The organization also called on Amblin production to promise that it would never use animals in its movies again.
“PETA is calling on dog lovers to boycott the film in order to send the message that dogs and other animals should be treated humanely, not as movie props.”
Canada’s Chief Veterinary Office confirmed that it received a formal complaint about the footage and that officials were investigating. An animal abuse conviction could lead to a fine of up to $10,000 and a prison sentence of up to six months, according to the Daily Mail.
The movie A Dog’s Purpose is a story about canine devotion and loyalty.
[Featured Image by Michael Hansen/Shutterstock]