'The Elephant in the Living Room'

"Good girl. Humans are for petting, not eating."

**1/2 (out of four)

Remember when a cobra got loose at the Brooklyn Zoo a few weeks ago? Well, if that didn’t scare you, there are thousands of exotic animals, including poisonous snakes and lions, in private residences around the country that also pose a danger to their owners and the public. Of course, the owners proclaim a special relationship with their unusual pets, which this documentary tries to explore along with the controversy.

The buzz: Much of director Michael Webber’s doc takes place in Ohio, where Officer Tim Harrison works to protect people who encounter dangerous animals and Terry Brumfield cares for two lions he’s owned for more than three years. No, the movie doesn’t really touch on managing their appetite and bathroom necessities.

The verdict: For the love of sensible filmmaking, stop with the fading in and out! That technique makes “The Elephant in the Living Room” feel like a lion continually closing and opening its eyes, an annoying choice that also inhibits the movie’s ability to transition smoothly from one idea to another. It’s fascinating that animals can be loving pets one minute and deadly killers the next, not to mention that there are laws requiring dog tags but little to nothing regulating lion ownership. Yet there’s just not enough detail in “The Elephant in the Living Room.” What kind of person wants an animal like this? What do the public and lawmakers think, and what’s being done? What is the consensus about the morality of caging/nurturing a wild animal in America? These are the answers I want, not just anecdotes about a giant snake getting lost in a woman’s wall for 28 days.

Did you know? Harrison says that when a mountain lion peed on him while being captured, he wanted to pee on the big cat in return. Somewhere in there is a proverb/Aesop’s Fable waiting to be written.

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mpais@tribune.com