The animal defense movement (or more accurately movements) gets remarkably direct and balanced treatment in this conventional but effective documentary by Curt Johnson, which gives all sides the opportunity not only to express their points of view but to challenge their opponents as well. “Your Mommy Kills Animals” is essentially a montage of interviews, file footage, off-the-cuff shots, photos and stills designed to disentangle the different approaches taken by people to protect animals from what they see as abuse. It achieves its goal with considerable skill and energy.

The picture distinguishes between the “animal rights” and “animal welfare” movements The former are the more extreme activists who use radical means—picketing outside people’s houses, breaking into labs that engage in experiments on animals, releasing animals from farms—to achieve their ends, leading to their being labeled as terrorists and prosecuted as such. (One of the major linking devices in the film is the trial of seven members of SHAC, an animal rights group, with the outcome withheld until the end, and a good deal of attention is devoted to the Animal Liberation Front.) The “welfare” people are those who seek to mitigate the abuse of animals by attempting to assure that when they’re used for testing, for instance, it’s done as humanely as possible. (One of the more moderate commentators suggests, for example, that the SHAC-ALF types are doing more harm than good by forcing animal testing operations out of countries where they can be kept under observation to regions where they can’t.)

Another important distinction the picture draws is between large, bureaucracy-heavy organizations like the Humane Society of the United States and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and smaller outfits that are likely to be more dedicated. The script is particularly strong in criticizing HSUS for being nothing more than a lobbying group and PETA for euthanizing a very high percentage of the animals they claim to rescue (from the description here, the latter might better be described as an animal control organization). It’s also very good in pointing up the blithe ignorance of celebrities who donate their names to such organizations without knowing exactly what (or how little) they actually do.

“Your Mommy Kills Animals” ties all this together remarkably well, offering not only a wide variety of opinions but an expertly chosen and edited one, and Anthony Rodriguez’s camerawork is first-rate. The result is a documentary that both informs and entertains, and that will invite animated debate—which is precisely what a good documentary should do.

The title, incidentally, comes from that of a PETA-sponsored comic book that a particularly astute critic uses to criticizes the organization’s tactics.