Published by Jennifer Bates.

Did you know that millions of animals are subjected to cruel and painful experiments and killed each year in the United States? These three throwback films lift the curtain on the world of animals in laboratories and raise important questions about how we treat other living beings. So pop some popcorn and start streaming one of these classics.


1. A kid-friendly flick with songs, bright visuals, and fun characters, FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992) spends most of its screen time on an overt conservation message, as rainforest denizens fight back against a logging company. But one character, Batty (voiced by the late Robin Williams), has a unique background: He has taken refuge in the rainforest after escaping from a laboratory. Batty is so disoriented by an experimental surgery in which electrodes were implanted in his brain that he routinely flies into trees and responds in non sequiturs. He’s terrified of humans, as are many real animals who suffer in laboratories. But despite such cruel experiments, Batty remains funny, sweet, and loyal to his friends.

FernGully is a wonderful introduction to the topics of animal experimentation and environmental degradation, and it’s appropriate for kids of all ages.


2. The Secret of NIMH (1982) focuses on the animals who are most commonly found in laboratories: mice and rats, more than 100 million of whom are killed each year in experiments ranging from forced poisoning to grotesque surgeries. The rats in The Secret of NIMH suffer through painful injections that have the side effect of heightened intelligence. They escape from the laboratory at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) but quickly find that NIMH’s experiments mean they can no longer live normal rat lives.

Although rated G, The Secret of NIMH has some scary scenes and is best suited to older kids and pre-teens.


3. The Plague Dogs (1982) follows the story of two dogs who escape from a government laboratory in northern England. Dogs in laboratories are often subjected to repeated experiments, and the movie does not shy away from this: Rowf, a black Labrador mix, is seen struggling through a horrifying endurance test that times how long he can swim before he drowns, only to be revived and tested again. Snitter, a fox terrier, undergoes experimental brain surgery that leaves him muddled and often in crippling pain.

The Plague Dogs is not intended for young children. With sometimes shocking violence and heart-wrenching images, the film is most appropriate for young adults who want to learn more about the lives of dogs and other animals in laboratories. It also raises many key issues: the secrecy surrounding experiments on animals, how animals used in laboratories are acquired and treated, and the cognitive dissonance exhibited by experimenters.

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