Those on both sides of the animal rights issue will find much to fume over in Your Mommy Kills Animals, Curt Johnson's in-depth, eye-opening examination of the movement, dubbed in 2005 by the FBI as the nation's number one domestic terrorist threat. That designation was apparently the motivation for Johnson's film, yet it's far from the only topic tackled, as the director also spends considerable time and analysis on PETA, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), animal-testing corporation Huntington, and – most fascinatingly – the touchy internal differences between radical animal rights advocates and more moderate animal welfare supporters. They're all highly charged issues of methods and morality, and ones that Johnson refuses to shy away from or takes sides over, challenging claims by all talking-head factions in a manner that doesn't completely obscure his own sympathies (which seem to lie with animal welfare backers), but which nonetheless give his rather comprehensive doc enough even-handedness to elevate it above propaganda.
Titled after a gruesome PETA comic distributed to kids (featuring a cartoon cover image of a '50s homemaker stabbing a bunny), Your Mommy Kills Animals offers only curt history of the cause's roots in nineteenth-century England (where it supposedly led to child welfare legislation), as well as its modern inception in the '70s by a British activist whose unsuccessful peaceful protests soon led to aggressive strategies. Johnson's main interest is today's state of affairs, and violence (or the lack thereof) is certainly one of the chief points of contention, with numerous speakers decrying the FBI's "terrorist" label as an attempt to slander what is "by and large the most nonviolent political-social justice movement ever." Or at least so claims Kevin Kjonaas, the former president of Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty (SHAC) – a subset of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) – and one of six SHAC members prosecuted by the federal government for inciting violence. "They're not Osama Bin-F--king-Laden," says a former PETA board member in defense of the accused. If, however, the ALF's organizational structure – in which autonomous cells carry out militant acts under the banner of a loosely engaged central body – doesn't bring to mind that of Al Qaeda, Johnson's doc nonetheless makes sure to illustrate the less-than-savory fearmongering tactics employed by many ALF members.
Whether terrorism encompasses simply acts of violence or also refers to the threat of violence is one of the questions Your Mommy Kills Animals deftly navigates, even as it fails to produce more than one speaker – Center for Consumer Freedom's David Martosko – to refute many animal rights advocates' assertions. With a traditional non-fiction aesthetic that helps bring clarity to the thorny material at hand, Johnson addresses the discrepancy between PETA's celeb-supported public image with their lesser-known policy of widespread euthanasia (they reportedly put more than 80% of their rescued animals to sleep), as well as whether it's morally virtuous to spare animals from testing at the expense of potentially saving human lives. This latter issue forcefully rears its head via Martosko's disclosure that PETA's VP regularly takes insulin injections despite the fact that testing was responsible for insulin's creation, a seemingly hypocritical stance that the VP skirts when confronted at a news conference, but which colors much of the film's discussion about the justness of medical research conducted on animals.
Johnson undercuts his segment about Hurricane Katrina by giving too lengthy a forum to twin bimbo playmates the Barbi Twins. And though his attempt to touch upon myriad aspects of his subject (save, perplexingly, for the food industry) is admirable, it also leads to a few topics getting undernourished attention, the most glaring being the government's decision to label animal activists but not abortion opponents – whose methods similarly include publishing doctors' residential addresses and phone numbers, and staging angry protests outside targets' homes and workplaces – as terrorists. Yet even when more exhaustive scrutiny would be welcome, Your Mommy Kills Animals shrewdly conveys the core belief at the heart of the rights movement: that animals are the equals of people, and therefore deserve the same rights under the law. To his credit, Johnson leaves his opinions largely out of this fundamental, volatile question, letting viewers decide whether or not one activist's invocation of a Martin Luther King Jr. quote to support her cause, or Kjonaas' climactic equation of his work with that of abolitionists and segregationists, is reason to stand up and cheer or an invitation to throw up.