by Ali Berman
Categories: Animals, Video
Tags: .

Famous animator Bill Plympton is no vegetarian, but his new short film, “The Cow Who Wanted to be a Hamburger,” certainly makes the case for valuing life.

I went to see Plympton’s full length film “Idiots and Angels” the other night. He was there to answer questions and introduce the movie. As a special treat, he showed “The Cow Who Wanted to be a Hamburger” first. When he said the title out loud, I immediately cringed thinking that I was about to see a film version of suicide food. I mean, what cow would want to become a hamburger?

The film (which also made the short list for the Oscars) begins with a calf suckling from his mother in an idyllic field. However, the calf quickly becomes aware of a billboard overlooking the pasture. On that billboard is a picture of a smiling hamburger that says “Happy Burger!” Many animal activists will recognize the humor and frustration in that billboard. There are many like it all around us, ads that make it sound as if the animals lead happy lives, and wanted to become food.

This little calf is just as susceptible to the powers of advertising as the humans who want to eat him. So, he leaves his crying mother behind and approaches the farmers so he can become a happy burger too. The little guy is only a calf, so the farmers laugh him back to the pasture.

Now comes a Rocky inspired montage of the calf weight training and running to bulk up, all with the dream that he will one day be big enough to become the happy burger. Horrific, right?

And now that the calf has become a cow and meets the weight requirements for slaughter, he enters in line with the other adult cows. Each of them looks terrified, they seem to know about their impending doom. But our hero is still smiling and can’t believe that the moment he’s been waiting for is here. That is, until he enters the slaughter facility. His face quickly turns from happy to horrified as he scrambles and tries to escape.

I’ll stop the synopsis there so as not to give away the ending.

After the film, Plympton took some questions. In the credits next to each person’s name it said what diet they followed. Some were omnivores, one a vegan, and everything in between. I asked Plympton, an omnivore, “Did the film inspire you at all to rethink your diet?”

Shockingly, his answer was no. They even had their wrap party at a BBQ/Steakhouse. However, I can’t imagine any viewer watching the film without asking some hard questions. How influenced am I by advertising? Does the animal that I eat have a right to live?

Personally, I think this short could be a powerful tool for animal activists. The animation style is bright and engaging. Because there is no dialogue, the film would work with any audience, no matter what language they speak. The story brings the viewer through an emotional experience filled with both laughter and horror.

Plympton might not be an animal activist, but he sure made a short that will make people question their own eating habits. I highly recommend watching the film.

Check out the first 56 seconds below…

About Ali Berman

Ali Berman is the author of Choosing a Good Life: Lessons from People Who Have Found Their Place in the World (Hazelden) and Misdirected (Seven Stories Press). She works as a humane educator for HEART teaching kids about issues affecting people, animals and the environment. Her published work can be found on her website at In early 2012 Ali co-founded flipmeover, a production company with the mission to use media to raise awareness of social issues.

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