There is a score of information on how Hollywood gets information wrong on actual people. One of the things that you may not realize (because there are not a whole lot of advocates getting blockbuster pictures on it) is that a movie can actually ruin an animal’s reputation as well. Here are a few movies that actually ruined or changed the reputations of animals involved in them.
White Wilderness (1958) – When you think of the word lemmings, there is generally a word that comes to mind. That word is ‘suicide.’ When you think of Disney entertainment, you tend to think of wholesome family entertainment. At the very least, you thought of wholesome family entertainment when Walt Disney was running the company. This brings us to the curious case of White Wilderness. Wilderness was a 1958 ‘documentary’ that famously ‘caught’ lemmings running off a cliff to commit suicide. In 1982 a Canadian newsmagazine called The Fifth Estate uncovered the truth of White Wilderness. The filming had taken place in Alberta, Canada instead of the claimed Artic Ocean. The lemmings were not even native to the area and could not have been migrating. They were actually pushed into the water by a rotating plank set up by the film crew. The myth persisted in thoughts and minds though. You can probably still download a suicidal video game called Lemmings somewhere.
Jaws (1975) – The historical story of Jaws is actually based on an incident along the Jersey shore in the early twentieth century. Unfortunately, the climax of the current Jersey Shore television series is not rumored to involve the cast being devoured by shark attack. If only…. At any rate, author Peter Benchley actually knew very little about the actual habits of great white sharks when Benchley wrote about a hungry killing machine. The original sharks were working in tandem and one was killed by a guy in a rowboat who beat the shark to death… with an oar. Obviously, he didn’t need a bigger boat. By the time of the filming of the movie, Benchley had done some actual research and objected to the climax of the movie. Claiming that the shark would be cautious and reactive, Benchley caused such a stink that he was thrown off the set. The trouble was that most people’s research into shark activities stopped at Jaws. This included boat captains and fisherman. Rather than become a meal, great whites were killed on sight after the movie came out. It became such a problem that the great white was driven near extinction and countries had to pass bans on hunting or killing great white sharks.
The Lion King (1994) – Some of the most memorable Disney villains of all time are the nefarious scavenging hyenas. Who would have thought that the movie was essentially giving into hyena stereotypes? Actual hyenas are loving devoted parents. The idea of killing a cub (even from another species) would have met with some resistance with real hyenas. Hyenas also actually hunt for 95% of their food. The hyena packs are such efficient hunters that Lions are actually known to often scavenge off of hyena kills rather than the other way around. Also, the largest hyena would have been the female. The accurate part is that the hyenas would have been perfectly capable of ripping apart Scar at the end. Letting the hyenas not hunt would have probably led to overpopulation of the zebra herds leading to smaller kills and starvation quicker than moving them into the Pridelands.
So, the next time that you watch a film, it might be good to remember that an industry incapable of having a consistent mythology on something called a xenomorph (and is completely made up) may not have the most perfect understanding of animals on this planet either.