Shortly after the Robert Pattinson-Reese Witherspoon film "Water for Elephants" hit theaters in April, a dark cloud appeared over the delicate period romance.
A video purporting to show the film's elephant star, Tai, being trained with electric shock devices and bull hooks began to circulate. The footage was so disturbing that the animal-protection group Animal Defenders International -- which released the surreptitiously recorded video -- had two of its members file a lawsuit against Tai's owners, the Perris, Calif.-based Have Trunk Will Travel.
On Tuesday, a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, in which the ADI members, Gail Profant and Leslie Hemstreet, said they purchased tickets to the 20th Century Fox film believing that its animal star had been treated humanely. While the judge did not rule on the facts of how Tai was treated, he said the plaintiffs could not continue with the litigation because they did not allege that "any portion" of the ticket price benefitted Have Trunk Will Travel.
In a statement, Have Trunk Will Travel owners Gary and Kari Johnson said that while they were "thrilled with the result," they still found that having to "defend against these types of allegations is disheartening, especially when the publicity from the movie drew such strong support for elephant conservation and research projects."
After receiving word of the ruling Thursday, Animal Defenders International said its attorneys and the plaintiffs were "reviewing their options." Fox had no comment on the judge's decision.
In an interview with The Times last year, Witherspoon said she grew so close to Tai on set that she wept on the final day of production.
"The day I had to say goodbye to her, I wept all day," she recalled. "You work with actors and directors, but to have this nonverbal complete relationship with an animal that we were all very connected to was very magical."
-- Amy Kaufman
Photo: Robert Pattinson with Tai the elephant in a scene from "Water for Elephants." Credit: 20th Century Fox