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Originally published April 28, 2011 at 3:03 PM | Page modified April 28, 2011 at 4:49 PM

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Movie review

'The Elephant in the Living Room': a complex, compassionate look at exotic pets

A movie review of "The Elephant in the Living Room," an exceptionally well-balanced documentary that takes a complex and compassionate look at the controversial issue of raising exotic, potentially dangerous animals as household pets.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3.5 stars

'The Elephant in the Living Room,' a documentary directed by Michael Webber. 96 minutes. Rated PG for thematic material, some disturbing situations, mild language and smoking. Meridian, Grand Cinema.

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The controversial practice of raising exotic animals as pets was recently outlawed in Ohio. If the makers of "The Elephant in the Living Room" have anything to say about it, the other 49 states should immediately follow suit.

This is not to say that writer- director Michael Webber has taken a one-sided approach with this extraordinary documentary. Instead he found a dramatic crisis in Ohio that perfectly illustrates the strong emotions and potential tragedy that swirl around the issue.

The result is an exceptionally compassionate, fair-minded film that clearly states, beyond any rational benefit of the doubt, that raising potentially dangerous animals as pets is destructive to animals and humans alike.

This is made abundantly clear by the emotional bond that develops in rural Ohio between Terry Brumfeld, a big-hearted owner of African lions, and Tim Harrison, a passionate animal-and-public safety advocate who urges Terry to move his beloved lions to a healthier habitat.

As it dramatically unfolds, this particular exotic-pet story includes a surprise twist, a tragic reversal and a conditionally happy outcome. Webber supports the arc of Tim and Terry's acquaintance with revealing hidden-camera investigations and all-too-familiar news reports about cougars, pythons, bears and other deadly "pets" set free by irresponsible owners.

This topic could easily have been sensationalized as reality TV, but Webber takes the high road, honoring the sanctity of all life while focusing his film on an intimately human scale.

Jeff Shannon: j.sh@frontier.com

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