UPDATED – Bill Warren is almost as well known for his love of animals – dogs in particular – as he is for his love of movies.
The Warren Theatres owner won’t be playing the new “A Dog’s Purpose,” though.
News broke Wednesday that one of the dogs on the set may have been mistreated. There’s a video that shows a frightened German Shepherd, Hercules, being forced into churning water.
“I’m not just going to play the film and act like nothing’s happened and take in blood money,” Warren says. “Quite frankly, the film company ought to pull the movie and not even release it.”
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Universal Pictures, the movie’s distributor, and Amblin Entertainment, the movie’s producer, released a statement Wednesday night to say that “ ‘A Dog’s Purpose’ is a celebration of the special connection between humans and their dogs. And in the spirit of this relationship, the Amblin production team followed rigorous protocols to foster an ethical and safe environment for the animals.”
The statement says further review of the video and its circumstances is ongoing. It also said that there had been “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.”
The statement added, “Hercules is happy and healthy.”
It’s not enough for Warren, who says he finds the situation “outrageously offensive.”
“It was abuse. There’s no question about it,” he says. “There’s no excuse for that kind of behavior. And I’m not going to reward that kind of behavior by playing their lousy movie.”
Warren says he told his film buyer to contact Universal to say he won’t be showing the movie. He says he’s not concerned about possible repercussions.
“I’m not overly worried about it if you want to know the truth. It’s my theaters, and I can show what I want to show and not show what I don’t want to show.”
He says he’s not sure what his contractual obligations may be.
“I don’t know. Don’t care. Am not showing it. It’s just that simple. … They can sue me in court,” Warren says.
“Anyone who does this kind of stuff should pay a price. The director should be criminally charged for allowing that to occur on the set. It is highly disturbing.”
The animal rescue group Beauties & Beasts was going to have a private showing of “A Dog’s Purpose” as a fundraiser, but the event has been canceled. Anyone who purchased tickets can get a refund at firstname.lastname@example.org or consider the ticket price a donation, according the event’s Facebook page.
In an e-mail, Lori Armstrong of Derby Plaza Theaters said she reviewed a video of the dog’s treatment and “did not see cruel and unusual punishment.”
“We think that this movie gives a wonderful take on how a dog is truly a man’s best friend,” she wrote. Armstrong said she and the theater respect other opinions but “believe in the integrity of this film and have decided to show it to our patrons.”
Brian Mitchell of Mitchell Theatres, which has a number of regional theaters including one at the family’s Chisholm Trail Center-Outlet & Retail Shops in Newton, says the chain will be playing “A Dog’s Purpose.” He says the company does not shy away from any controversial films.
“The bottom line is if the people want to boycott it, that’s their right to,” he says. “We don’t practice censorship.”
Mitchell says he won’t know until Monday if the movie will be available to show next weekend on its national release date.
“If Universal pulls it, then none of us will play it.”
Mitchell also is a farmer, and in that capacity he deals with People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which is one of the groups that has spoken out about the movie.
“We deal with PETA all the time,” he says.
“I never dreamed there’d be an issue with PETA in the movie business.”