Director Errol Morris got the inspiration for making this film from an article which appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1977: '450 Dead Pets Going to Napa Valley'. The owners of the Foothill Memorial Gardens pet cemetery in Los Alos wanted to use the area for the construction of houses. They dug up the animals that lay buried there and moved them to the Bubbling Well Pet Memorial Park. This park is run by the Herberts, a family devoting itself to this task with dedication. Morris films this family, their work on the pet cemetery, and the people who commit their beloved quadrupeds to the earth.
The most fascinating aspect of this film is the way these Californians talk. A woman tells about building a deep and meaningful relationship with her poodle. And as if the subject were not ridiculous enough, she provides this piece of information in a style that is used in commercials and advertisements, mixed with socially therapeutic gibberish.
Not many films manage to show so well how Californians talk, justify themselves and their motives and, by taking on a specific jargon, succeed in keeping pure despair and desperation at arm's length. Although many of these almost exhibitionistic scenes evoke feelings of embarrassment and vicarious shame, Morris does not deride the people involved. He gives equal prominence to the horror, the hilarious disbelief and the pity.
Morris mainly captures these people in static medium close-up shots, giving the audience a view of their carefully assembled, yet highly artificial interiors. These meticulous compositions are fairly unusual in documentaries. Morris seems to react against the dominating cinéma vérité-style of the sixties and seventies. The subject of his film is pet cemeteries, but more relevant is the information about language, the American middle class, and a peculiar family called the Herberts. Therefore, fans call this film "not really a documentary about pet cemeteries".