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Why I Can’t Watch the New Lion King

“I’m empathetic to a fault. I really do — embarrassingly enough — tear up when someone squishes a bug in front of me.” -Kristen Bell

I heard this quote a few years ago and it stuck with me. I’ve always been an animal lover; I think at one point growing up we had five cats and five dogs at one time so small wonder. Animals have always been a part of our family — my brothers, sisters, and my daughter. For me, a house isn’t a home without a fur baby running around. I’ve always seemed to gravitate toward and relate to animals over people. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a complete recluse void of human relationships. I have noticed, however, that this tendency has become more intense in my adult life. This is glaringly evident when I spend the better part of an hour trying to coax a fly back outside, so it doesn’t perish in my living room. Yes, that’s right, I’m worried about flies now. Just watching the panicked little bugger frantically try to get out the window breaks my heart a little. Obviously, Kristen Bell and I need to be best friends.

I’ll start by saying that I choose to be blissfully ignorant on most issues concerning animals. I am the first to admit that I turn a blind eye to situations and topics that bother me, purely out of selfishness and self-preservation. I AM one of those people who tear up at everything, and frankly, don’t have the emotional stamina to do the kind of good I wish I could.

There are a lot of subjects I’ve started to question now that I’m older and (ahem) wiser. Things I didn’t take the time to think about in my 20’s. Why can’t they use robots in place of police dogs? Sure, horse-drawn carriages are charming, but do those horses enjoy puling people around all day? Why are some still breeding animals when there are so many that already need homes? Are people helping animals in natural disasters? Trapping can’t be legal anymore, can it? What about pets caught in bad situations; is there a child protective services for them? Why can’t someone invent magical, invisible fencing to keep all critters off highways? No one still uses actual fur for fashion, right? Can’t all meat products be replaced with whatever wizardry The Impossible Whopper is made of? In case you’re wondering, it is exhausting being in my head.

This time of year is especially difficult as it’s deer hunting season. Growing up and living in Minnesota — hunting is a tradition for many families. People say it’s a pastime, they eat what they kill, there’s the matter of population control, etc. We are surrounded by beautiful and majestic animals up here in the north woods… the thought of looking into those innocent and trusting eyes, then ending that life — sickens me. That someone then poses with this defenseless creature like it’s some sort of trophy — brings me to tears. I’m not looking to debate this topic or offend anyone; I simply need to distance myself from it. It wasn’t long ago that I went to an arcade for a work event. I was all excited to play the Laura Croft game and shoot some bad guys. To my horror, the goal was instead to shoot wolves. I had to step away; it went against something in the very core of my soul to shoot those video game wolves. I, however, had no trouble shooting the bad guys.

I am clearly sensitive to the type of entertainment I’m consuming. I refuse to knowingly watch any TV shows or movies that center around animals or have any violence or sadness whatsoever regarding animals. I’ve stopped watching more than one series because of scenes I did not appreciate. My family and friends know to warn me of things I should not watch. I really don’t think animal cruelty is ever funny or essential to the storyline. Even if it’s a happy story, I find myself worrying about how they were treated in real life. You’ll never see me anywhere near a horse track, circus or rodeo. If bullfighting is on the TV, I’ll ask you to change it. I don’t see myself visiting a zoo again unless they are known for their conservation and rehabilitation efforts. Life was a lot simpler when I didn’t think these things through.

This brings me to the wonderful world of Disney. I grew up in the era of The Little MermaidBeauty & the BeastAladdin, Pocahontas, and The Lion King. I still have my Pumbaa stuffed animal in my room at home along with a stellar collection of VHS tapes and CD soundtracks. The recent resurgence of these remakes makes my childhood self pretty darn gleeful. That is until I saw the trailer for The Lion King. Scratch that, I couldn’t even watch the trailer for The Lion King. The animals look so real, I couldn’t handle it. Google tells me this is called photorealistic computer animation — realistic is right. It’s amazing what they can do, and as a lover of all things Disney, it pains me to miss out on the magic. But I just can’t handle the life-like looking animals making real-life animal sounds — technology, man. Side note — if you haven’t seen Kristen Bell and Jimmy Fallon’s History of Disney Songs yet — It. Is. Everything.

I did, however, recently watch the new Netflix movie Holiday in the Wild. I was thinking it was just another one of my feel-good Christmas flicks, albeit with a fantastic backdrop. Boy, was I surprised. It is utterly heartwarming and heartbreaking all at the same time. I was sobbing within minutes. It centers around an elephant orphanage in South Africa and is made even more special to learn that star Kristin Davis has been heavily involved in elephant conservation for years. In the movie, they talk about elephants having all the emotions of humans. That they have a sense of humor and family; the children demand attention and the teenagers rebel. It’s such an incredible story and even more importantly, was filmed safely and ethically as Kristin explains in this interview with People. I sure hope those barbaric poachers are punished accordingly. In other news: Kristin’s co-star, one Mr. Rob Lowe, looks deliciously delightful as a rugged pilot rescuing elephants. Seriously, the man doesn’t age.

There are endless stories of animals feeling human emotion and doing miraculous things. They nurture and care for their families, they feel pain and pleasure, they grieve, they have remarkable instincts, they learn, they are loyal and intelligent, they feel love and fear, they protect their own, they protect us. We should have the compassion to do what we can to protect and care for them. I am obviously by no means an animal activist; I wholeheartedly admire and appreciate those that dedicate their lives to being a voice for animals. Even if all I do is donate money to organizations when I can, endeavor to buy free-range and cruelty-free products, speak up when I see an injustice, and love the furry kids in my life, at least it’s something — it’s a start. I will aspire to take down some of the blinders and be more cognizant of our extraordinary animal friends and their well-being, as I believe Princess Anna of Arendelle would. Now, excuse me while I open the door for this fly.

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