The trailer for “A Dog’s Purpose,” the new children’s dramedy from Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom (“Chocolate,” “The Cider House Rules”), promised an adorable romp when the movie is released on Friday, Jan. 27.
The short clip followed a golden retriever who is reincarnated time and time again – as a German Shepherd, a corgi and even a Saint Bernard – serving a new owner each time, until he eventually reunites with his original owner.
“Was there a point to this journey of mine? And how did bacon fit in?” the dog asked in the trailer, eventually concluding, “If I can get you licking and loving, I have my purpose.”
But another video – this one less family friendly – published by TMZ last Wednesday incited some to promise a boycott of the movie and has prompted an investigation into its filming.
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In the about one-minute-long clip from November 2015, a German Shepard named Hercules stood between its handler and a large pool of churning water in preparation to shoot a scene.
But Hercules appeared frightened, leaning away from the turbulent white water and struggling to escape his handler’s grasp.
“Just gotta throw him in,” said one off-screen voice, while the handler attempted to shove him in, managing to dip Hercules’ feet in the water before the dog jumped defiantly back onto the ledge.
“I don’t think he wants to go in,” said the voice, now chuckling. “He wants to get away. Just throw him in.”
Eventually, the dog was shoved into the water but even then wouldn’t comply, still desperately struggling to get out of the water.
The movie’s production company Amblin Entertainment and distributor Universal Pictures released a joint statement noting that the footage was “edited” and stating “the Amblin production team followed rigorous protocols to foster an ethical and safe environment for the animals.”
“While we continue to review the circumstances shown in the edited footage, Amblin is confident that great care and concern was shown for the German Shepherd Hercules, as well as for all of the other dogs featured throughout the production of the film,” the statement read. “There were several days of rehearsal of the water scenes to ensure Hercules was comfortable with all of the stunts. 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.”
Regardless, the video sparked anger.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals told Variety, “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.”
Meanwhile American Humane – which according to its website, “works in association with the American film and TV industry to help ensure the well-being of animal actors and promote the human-animal bond” and is “on the set to protect animal actors” – is investigating the matter.
American Humane spokesperson Mark Stubis told the Associated Press the on-set safety representative was suspended, and the organization is hiring an independent investigator to look into the video.
Many of the top creative forces behind the film’s production have also expressed anger and regret at the clip.
Gavin Polone, one of the film’s producers who claimed to have worked on set for 70 percent of the shoot, told Variety, “Had I been on the set, this would have never happened. This movie got made because of how I feel about animals. So this happened 15 months ago and should have been investigated immediately. It’s unconscionable that someone waited a year and three months to call attention to this.”
In three tweets on Wednesday, Hallstrom, the director, said, “I am very disturbed by the video released today from the set of my film ‘A dog’s purpose. I did not witness these actions. We were all committed to providing a loving and safe environment for all the animals in the film. I have been promised that a thorough investigation into this situation is underway and that any wrongdoing will be reported and punished.”
Finally in a tweet confirmed as authentic by his publicist, actor Josh Gad – who voices the dog in the film – said he considered the movie “one of the most beautiful love letters to animals.” But he was “shaken and sad to see any animal put in a situation against its will.”
Gad said he “reached out to the production team and studio to ask for an explanation for these disturbing images.”