Disney and James Cameron Slammed For ‘Cruel’ ‘Avatar’ Dolphin Stunt

Animal welfare activists are up in arms over a stunt performed by dolphin trainers during an event to celebrate the premiere of Avatar: The Way of Water (2022) with James Cameron. Of course, this choice came as a surprise due to the Avatar franchise’s intense emphasis on respect for the natural world and all living things as opposed to materialism, possessiveness or entitlement, and colonialism.

The film, which revisits the exoplanetary world of Pandora a generation after the events of the original movie, revisits themes of animal equity, cyclical relationships, and conservationism. Additionally, The Way of Water moves from within the bioluminescent jungles of the Valley of Mo’ara to the moon’s coast, where seafaring Na’vi tribes spiritually bond with the dolphin-whale type “ilu” creature.

avatar the way of water

Credit: James Cameron

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Apparently, this connection led Cameron’s team to orchestrate a performance by trained dolphins “confoundingly out of step” with Cameron’s own values according to the World Animal Protection group. In fact, Cameron himself introduced the promotional event at a Tokyo aquarium, welcoming Guests “to Pandora” before dolphins began their routine with orchestral music and underwater lights.

Moreover, stars Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, and Zoe Saldaña also attended and clapped while filming the dolphins’ tricks in a video clip posted to Youtube. Performer Ric O’Barry, who contributed to The Cove, an award-winning documentary on the Japanese dolphin industry’s animal cruelty, chimed in to call the performance “crazy” from someone committed to environmental rights.


Credit: Disney

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What’s more, Cameron himself is a vegan and believes in environmental activism. Despite this, when asked about the stunt in a video, Cameron made light of the situation, saying he was sure they “asked” the dolphins for “permission” to put them in the show, and that he “loved” them and “their intelligence.”

However, according to Cameron Hash, the US programs director for World Animal Protection, in captivity, handlers will confine dolphins in a “tiny, barren, artificial environment 200 thousand times smaller than their natural habitat. They endure severe suffering and distress and live much shorter lives on average than their wild counterparts.”

Pandora Utility Suit Interactive Character

Credit: Disney

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Furthermore, the PETA’s senior VP of communications, Lisa Lange, told Yahoo News she found the stars’ and director’s behavior “shocking:”

“The trainers were treating those dolphins like circus clowns. They were riding on the noses of the dolphins, I mean, that’s as bad as it gets.”

A video posted by O’Barry’s nonprofit, Dolphin Project, and SEASPIRACY elaborates more on the harsh conditions of Japan’s Taiji Cove hunts, which furnish dolphins for performance purposes like those used in Cameron’s stunt. Within the comments, many fans voice concern over Disney’s involvement in the ordeal, and mention boycotting the franchise and the Company altogether:


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Since its recent theatrical release, the sequel to Cameron’s 2009 film, Avatar, has already grossed $15.8 million across the US and overseas markets, and Disney Parks have doubled down heavily on promoting the franchise. Indeed, from new menu items at the World of Avatar theme park area to special nighttime performances, and merchandise, Disney is certainly hoping to profit from the success of Cameron’s film, even though it also expressed a commitment to conservation and natural protections in the past.

So far, the Walt Disney Company has not provided commentary on James Cameron’s “cruel dolphin stunt.” DisneyTips will update as the story develops.

About Spencer Beck

Spencer is a lifelong lover of theme parks, princesses, and Disney history that recently relocated to Northern California. She completed her undergraduate studies at UCLA, where she was the founder and first president of the campus Disney Club. A former Cast Member still mourning the loss of the Disney Store, she now haunts the halls of the Walt Disney Family Museum, and shares her opinions with anyone who will listen @pinknpurble everywhere.