Blame Walt Disney, or Rudyard Kipling, or the makers of ‘Free Willy’, but we do love to anthropomorphise animals. The perils of bestowing imagined human characteristics onto wild creatures is explored in this forceful documentary tracking the case of Tilikum, an orca whose involvement in the accidental deaths of three people led to controversy for its owners, SeaWorld.
It’s a fascinating behind-the-scenes insight into life at America’s hugely popular aqua parks, constructed largely from talking-head interviews with former SeaWorld employees – many of whom worked directly with Tilikum (the company itself refused to take part). But TV-trained director Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s approach can tend towards the didactic, overdoing the doomy music, teary relatives and shock revelations. This can be aggravating, especially when the point she’s making – that keeping an intelligent, emotionally sophisticated nine-ton animal in an enclosure roughly the size of a two-car garage might not be such a great idea – is so blindingly obvious.