Suicidal lemmings

17th January 2003 at 00:00
Question: who would push a few dozen small rodents over a cliff to drown in the river below? Answer: a film crew from the Walt Disney corporation, the creator of oh-so many lovable animated animals. Why did they commit this unnatural act? Because they were making a nature documentary, of course.

White Wilderness, released in 1958, was about animals in the Arctic. A star appearance was made by the lemming, with its taste for chilly habitats and strange habit of committing mass suicide. Sure enough, audiences saw the creatures plunging to their deaths - close up and in focus. The final shot shows a sea heaving with dying lemmings. "Gradually, strength wanes... determination ebbs away... and the Arctic Sea is dotted with tiny bobbing bodies," says an emotional commentator. People believed their own eyes and a myth was born. The trouble with Disney's True Life Adventure film was that it was a lie. Lemmings don't actually commit suicide. Every few years overcrowding and a shortage of their favourite food, moss, forces them to migrate in search of greener pastures. En route many do die, but accidentally.

But these facts were either ignored or not known to the makers of White Wilderness. They were preoccupied with practical problems. Lemmings live in northern Canada, Alaska, Siberia and Scandinavia. They do not live in land-locked Alberta, where the film was made. In order to get their hands on some furry kamikaze, the film-makers paid Inuit children in Manitoba to catch them. The 50 or so they acquired were placed on a snow-covered turntable and filmed from various angles in order to fake the mass migrations that preceded the supposed suicides. Then, according to a 1983 investigation by a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation producer, the lemmings were taken and pushed off the cliff.

Whether or not Disney head office was aware of the fabrication is not known. But next time the credits roll and you read "No animals were hurt in the making of this film", spare a thought for the poor lemmings.

Subscribe to get access to the content on this page.

If you are already a Tes/ Tes Scotland subscriber please log in with your username or email address to get full access to our back issues, CPD library and membership plus page.

Not a subscriber? Find out more about our subscription offers.
Subscribe now
Existing subscriber?
Enter subscription number

Comments

The guide by your side – ensuring you are always up to date with the latest in education.

Get Tes magazine online and delivered to your door. Stay up to date with the latest research, teacher innovation and insight, plus classroom tips and techniques with a Tes magazine subscription.
With a Tes magazine subscription you get exclusive access to our CPD library. Including our New Teachers’ special for NQTS, Ed Tech, How to Get a Job, Trip Planner, Ed Biz Special and all Tes back issues.

Subscribe now