"The Hobbit" director Peter Jackson has amassed plenty of critics following a report that more than two dozen animals died during the New Zealand production of the J.R.R. Tolkien adaptation.
But the film's distributor Warner Bros. Pictures and studio New Line Cinema are sticking by Jackson, issuing a strongly worded statement Tuesday that supported the director and called into question the motives of his accusers.
"Warner Bros. Pictures and New Line Cinema join Peter Jackson and the producers of 'The Hobbit' in vigorously refuting and condemning accusations of animal abuse on the films," the statement reads. "The production acted swiftly and responsibly in addressing any incidents involving animals in its care throughout the long filming process, and in fact, measures were taken to protect all farm animals, including those uninvolved with the films."
Warner's and New Line also said that the accusations stem from animal wranglers who were fired from the production and now presumably wish to tarnish the film just weeks before its Dec. 14 release date.
Also read: "Hobbit" Animal Deaths: Peter Jackson Denies AP Story
"We question the timing of this misinformation — given 'The Hobbit's' imminent release — and have no recourse other than to reveal that the primary source of these new allegations can be traced to freelance animal wranglers who were dismissed by the production over a year ago for cause," the statement continues.
A spokeswoman declined to comment to TheWrap on the firing of the wranglers.
The scandal began when animal-rights group PETA disseminated a report that as many as 27 animals associated with the "Hobbit" production had died, and that a horse was "hobbled" during the production.
One horse used by the filmmakers was torn up by wire fencing, while another fell to its death while being herded into an overcrowded paddock, PETA charged.
After PETA's report emerged, a spokesman for Jackson acknowledged to the Associated Press that some animals, including horses, goats and chickens and a sheep, had died at a farm where the animals used for the film were being housed. However, he said, some of the deaths were the result of natural causes.
Jackson himself slammed PETA's accusation Monday night. In a joint statement with the film's producers, Jackson said that the claims had not been properly vetted, and that, after a thorough investigation, no evidence had been found that a horse was hobbled during the making of the film.
"The producers completely reject the accusations that twenty seven animals died due to mistreatment during the making of the films," the statement from Jackson and the "Hobbit" producers.
"The production regrets that PETA has chosen to make such a serious accusation, which has distressed many of the dedicated Kiwis who worked with animals on the films — including trainers, wranglers, care-givers, farm workers and animal health care professionals — without properly vetting the source from which they received this information," the statement from Jackson and the "Hobbit" producers reads.
They added that claims of animal abuse in the production had always swiftly responded to reports of animal abuse.
A spokesperson for the American Humane Association, which monitors the treatment of animals on movie sets, told the Associated Press that no animals were harmed during the filming of "The Hobbit," but that there were questions about the safety of animals off of the set.
The spokesman said that the AHA investigated the farm where the animals were being housed and made recommendations to improve safety measures by repairing fencing and housing; suggestions the farm implemented.