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Big-screen wolves

Big-screen wolves — Naturalists are unhappy about the negative portrayal of wolves in films like ”White Fang”

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Dog trainer Clint Rowe and his wolf-malamute Jed won accolades from naturalists for their work on Disney’s The Journey of Natty Gann (1985). But their latest Disney effort, White Fang, which opened Jan. 18, is raising a few hackles. The movie, based on Jack London’s 1906 novel, has a savage wolf pack attacking some characters and gobbling up another off-screen. The scene troubles naturalists battling centuries of anti-wolf prejudice. ”The wolves in the movie are very scary,” says Pat Tucker, a biologist for the National Wildlife Federation. ”When I go out to schools, the first thing kids ask is, ‘Will wolves hurt me?’ The movie reinforces that stereotype.”

Albert Manville, a senior biologist for the Defenders of Wildlife and a consultant on the movie, says he objected to the wolf attack scene during production. Disney quickly agreed to run a disclaimer reminding audiences, ”There has never been a documented case of a healthy wolf or pack of wolves attacking a human in North America.”

”The attack scene was debated and debated [with the studio], but the literature finally won out,” says Rowe. Meanwhile, Doug Seus, who owns the full-blooded wolves used in White Fang, defends the film as an adaptation of the novel. ”London used a late-19th-century perception of wolves,” he says. ”You shouldn’t rewrite classic literature. Would you do ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ without the wolf?”