Trap On Cougar Mountain

Director: Keith Larsen   
Erik Larsen, Keith Larsen, Karen Steele

Movies (especially of the unknown kind) may always be in the back of my mind, but there are other things I like to think and ponder about from time to time. One of those things is animals, specifically the various relationships man has with the animal kingdom. The various ways that man looks upon animals is fascinating. Sometimes I wonder about the seemingly primary way that man looks upon animals, as to be used to his advantage, such as being beasts of burden or food. Is it right of us to take advantage of our superior intellect to exploit animals? Well, it could be argued that there are animals that eat other animals, and I believe there is a passage in the Bible saying that God gave man dominance over animals. Still, I sometimes wonder if we go too far at times with this. What really interests me is that while we think of some animals in this way, there are other animals that we have a different perspective about. There are some animals that we instead shower love upon, and think of as friends. I guess that, even as a non-vegetarian, I can understand this - some animals seem effortless to warm up to. Take dogs, for instance. Dogs can be very loyal, can be very loving, and you can train them to do a number of tricks that make them seem more, well, human. It's probably this "human" factor most of all that has made dogs popular as pets (except in Korea, where they eat them), and probably explains many of the other animals that we don't consider as food. Cats have that independent spirit that many of us wish we had, for example, and I could probably find some human spirit in many other kinds of pets.

Unfortunately, there are a number of people who take this idea too far, treating certain animals in this "human" spirit when these certain animals should be treated more as, well, animals. For example, I remember a few years ago reading this true story about a couple that owned a horse, a horse that was very devoted to them and couldn't stand to be separated from them. So they let the horse in and out of their home, like it was a cat. They claimed that the horse only had one "accident" in the home. That may sound somewhat silly, but it seems sane when you consider some of the other animals some humans treat as people. One of those animals are bears. In countless movies (such as Escape To Grizzly Mountain) and television shows, bears have been shown to be lovable lugs and great companions to bearded individualists who live in the deep woods. While they may be cute and devoted as cubs, the truth is when they grow up, they become wild animals - they can never be fully tamed, and even one that's been with humans since birth can viciously attack its human master. The same thing can be found with apes and monkeys. Sure, a chimpanzee may look cute and can be trained to do stuff, but they too can never be fully tamed. They can act cute and cuddly at one moment, and then suddenly turn without warning into vicious beasts. Being much more stronger than humans, a chimpanzee could rip off a limb from a human with barely an effort, and this strength is one reason why Michael Jackson quietly got rid of Bubbles the chimp.

Cougars may not have gotten as rosy a picture as bears and apes over the years, but you'll find on occasion that in entertainment they are pictured as lovable as well. The truth is that cougar attacks on humans are on the rise, at least where I live in Canada. Although I remember fondly Trap On Cougar Mountainthe time in grade school where a cougar was brought to school and we got to pet it, the headlines of attacks over the years have sunk in. I don't see how a human could bond with a cougar, but in Trap On Cougar Mountain, that's what was advertised. My intrigue about how the filmmakers would handled this relationship made me pick it up for review. Here's the plot description from the back of the video box: "At last, a film that the entire family can watch and enjoy! All ages will love the beauty and excitement of this masterfully told story of a young boy and his undying love for animals. Filmed against breath-taking scenery high in the rugged mountains of Utah, these are the heart warming and thrilling adventures of Erik Thompson and Jason, his pet cougar. Misunderstood by family and neighbors alike, young Erik begins a single-handed crusade to save his animal friends from the traps and bullets of the hated hunters. But chores are neglected in favor of high-spirited rescue missions and Erik is soon forced to return his animals to the wilderness. Saddened and desperate, Erik watches as his beloved Jason is chased from the ranch. When Jason is wounded, however, Erik is moved to decisive action. Braving the perils and challenges of the wilderness, pursued by ranchers and hunters alike, Erik races to save Jason and finds himself not only fighting for his cougar but fighting for his own survival!"

I think that the majority of you readers would agree with me that when it comes to this genre - that being "A boy and his (animal)" films - that one of the main aspects of such movies that determine if they work or not boils down to the boy and his animal. Is the boy someone we will root for as he faces his challenges? Is the animal charismatic, having some kind of behavior that could almost be mistaken for human behavior? And is the bond between man and beast believable and able to hit home on your emotions? With my review of Trap On Cougar Mountain, I'll start by analyzing the movie through these particular questions, starting with the character of Erik, the boy. It didn't take long in the movie for me, an adult, to start seriously questioning Erik, because while he's supposed to be "good", many of his actions are questionable. We see him grab leg traps planted by hunters, and throw these expensive traps off a cliff or into a river. He uses himself as a human shield to block view of an animal that a hunter is about to shoot. He enters a hunter's camper without permission, and steals all the ammunition he finds in the camper's cupboard. He raids the lunchboxes of his fellow classmates so he can bring their sandwiches to feed the cougar. Although he loves animals enough to help them in the wild, it is mentioned several times he does not clean and maintain the cages of his homemade animal hospital/zoo he has at home. It was repeated behavior like this throughout the movie that made it very hard for me to generate any sympathy towards Erik. In fact, I am convinced that many of the kids who watch this movie will also question Erik's behavior, and as much as their parents will.

It's bad enough that Erik does all these things, but what makes it even worse is that the movie seems to approve of all his actions and his beliefs. I was hoping someone would come up to him at some point and say something like, "Son, some people depend on hunting for food or for their livelihood. And in some parts of these United States, animals such as deer and the nutria have become such pests that we need to hunt them to keep their numbers from becoming too high." Had the movie not been so one-sided and allowed for some material coming from the other side of the argument, the conflicts that would come up because of this could have been interesting for adults and kids. But instead, the movie keeps insisting Erik is in the right. Even if you are a die hard environmentalist and Erik sounds appealing, I have some bad news for you. Despite doing all that stuff, Erik remains a boring character. We never get to know what he's thinking, or why he does the things he does. In fact, all of the human characters in Trap On Cougar Mountain are boring. Time and again you'll see that they are not real people, just devices used to advance the plot, a plot so limited that with all the fat trimmed, it could play with commericals in a 30 minute spot on TV. Well then, what about the cougar? Unfortunately, there's not much enjoyment to be found with this animal. The filmmakers didn't seem to understand that it's hard to warm up to a cougar. Cougars always seem grumpy and unfriendly, and when you're near even one that's spent time around humans, you can't be sure if it will not suddenly take a swipe at you with its claws. Even during times in the movie when the cougar is simply resting, the vacant look in its eye is actually a little scary.

Even if the filmmakers had used an animal that was more cuddly, it wouldn't have helped much because the animal central to this movie is, incredibly, not seen that much during the entire course of the movie. That's right, a "boy and an animal" movie with not much of the animal present. The blame for that can rest on the shoulders of writer/director Keith Larsen, and there's a lot more blame for him to take for a lot more that's found in the movie. There's one lengthy moment when Erik and a friend flee the ranch to look for Erik's cougar. After making their way deep in the wilderness, suddenly they are back at the ranch with no explanation. Then there's the movie's setting; it's a curious place. We never really get a good wide look at this area, just a bunch of close-ups. Also, even though characters mostly wear winter apparel and there are patches of snow everywhere, there are a few scenes when it's warm enough for some characters to wear short-sleeved shirts. It's a place where high school students read from anthropology textbooks even though there are algebra equations on the blackboard. If you're a child and you accidentally roll down a hill, you will suddenly be over a foot longer in height as you roll down, then revert back to your normal height when you stop rolling and start to pick yourself up. Also, if you happen to fall into a raging river high in the mountains in a winter environment, you won't get hypothermia even if you don't build a fire. In fact, all you have to do is wait several seconds and your clothes will suddenly be completely dry. After watching countless moments like that, I came to a conclusion: Any post-1970 independent family movie with the word "mountain" in the title will be bad. Just see Escape To Grizzly Mountain, The Force On Thunder Mountain, The Giant Of Thunder Mountain, and The Legend Of Black Thunder Mountain. Don't get trapped by those movies, or this one.

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See also: Against A Crooked Sky, Escape To Grizzly Mountain, White Wolves