Dancing penguins cause a stir


Just before Christmas, I trundled off to the cinema to see Happy Feet, drawn by the concept of tap-dancing penguins – what could possibly be better than penguins doing a bit of shuffle-hop-step?  Well, having one of them sing with the wonderful tones of Hugh Jackman certainly didn’t do any harm.  It wasn’t one of the best films I’ve ever seen, and it wasn’t the best I’ve seen this year, but it was certainly entertaining with amusing characters, catchy music and wonderful choreographed penguins.  Some aspects of the ending are rather credulity-stretching, which is quite a feat when suspension of disbelief has managed to cope with flightless birds singing and dancing their hearts out.  But overall a most pleasant viewing experience, and I’m quite tempted to buy the soundtrack.

However, the film seems to have caused a bit of a stir on the other side of the Atlantic, as I discovered when wandering around the internet looking for various views on the penguins.  The environmental theme of some of the movie has irritated certain columnists, and it has even been labelled as propaganda by some.  The most bile-filed reaction to it would seem to be the words of Michael Medved.  I hadn’t heard his name before, and will be sure that I don’t return to his little patch of cyberspace in a hurry.  His main bone of contention is that the film’s trailers do not indicate that there is any environmental message, which means that it is stealth indoctrination.  It is true, of course, that the trailers don’t go in to this aspect, but trailers always go for the flashiest aspects of a movie rather than any political or social content (unless that is itself a selling point), as that will ensure more bums on seats.  I suppose I can give him, and other detractors, that point, but the other objections to the film just make me cross.

The propagandistic theme suggests that the biggest menace for the lovable penguins is the human race — stealing the fish on which the birds depend, or ruining planet earth through pollution and global warming.

Oh dear, Medved mentions those words that the corporate West hates to hear – global warming.  But the film does not even suggest a tiny hint of this problem.  It does place the responsibility for the welfare of penguin-kind at the feet of the human race, but it is irresponsible over-fishing that is the issue, not the possible effects of global warming.  You have to be more than a little blinkered to suggest that over-fishing does not have any effect on species like penguins.  It’s like claiming that the introduction of rabbits to Australia was a good idea – it’s plainly nonsense.  Over-fishing has a detrimental effect on species that eat fish.  Hardly rocket science.  The only problem I had with this aspect of the film was the reaction of humanity to this problem being raised, though I was grateful that there was no unanimous hand-holding, tree-hugging moment of revolution.

The title “Happy Feet,” suggesting a feel-good frolic, could hardly be more deceptive for a deeply ill-considered project that will make most audience members feel gloomier and more depressed than they did when they entered the theatre.

Apparently, it’s all far too disturbing for young children (in a wildly inaccurate statement, we’re even told that ‘At least 80% of the film’s running time shows its penguin characters in pain or danger’).  That’s for parents to decide, to be honest, and as I’ve seen ridiculously young children being taken to much scarier films (such as the most recent Harry Potter excursion) and being taken out in tears, it seems that parents often don’t particularly care.  The film’s PG (Parental Guidance) rating suggests that the very smallest children might find some things too much to cope with.  There are indeed some scary bits.  I jumped once or twice during a chase with a leopard seal.  But I’d say that the stampede in The Lion King is far more disturbing.  Most kids like to be made to jump a little bit, and a touch of adrenalin does most of us a world of good.  As for children being disturbed or corrupted by the political/environmental bits, I’d be very surprised if they even remember it.  What most kids will take away from the film will be cute penguins dancing, singing and clowning around.  It takes much more than a cartoon to indoctrinate a child.

After this, we descend into silly country, so silly that I couldn’t find a quote to excise that didn’t just make me far too angry.  Anti-religious and pro-homosexual themes in the film?  I really don’t think so.  The clash with the religious elders (and by the way, Mr Medved, I think you’ll find they worship the ‘Great Guin’, not the ‘Great Wind’) is a generation clash far more than a religious clash.  And I don’t think the message ‘it’s OK to be different’ can be repeated often enough, as it’s something kids need to hear in this world that seems to expect conformity as much as it ever has.  X-Men 2 handled that theme with more humour and grace, but it’s hardly out of place in something aimed at a younger audience.  In my opinion, the messages of this film are intensely Christian.  It is a Biblical principle to watch over and care for this world and its creatures, as far back as the book of Genesis.  And judging by the people that Jesus mixed with, it really is OK to be different, and it is important to accept others for who they are.  Christian faith should be a matter of love, tolerance and acceptance of others, of drawing alongside rather than of casting out, hatred and prejudice.  I strongly suspect that scenes from this film will be used in a great number of church sermons and children’s activities for a while.

Reactions to the film from Christian groups and individuals seem to be varied, and my view is certainly not held by everyone.  I’ll be fascinated to see what response, if any, organisations like Damaris, which seeks to give a Christian response to popular culture, have to the film.  Christianity Today certainly has a mixed response which made me much less cross than Michael Medved’s response that I linked to at the start of this post.  As for me, I see it basically as a song-filled romp, and can see no dangers in any of the messages it may or may not be sending out.  Certainly not worthy of the stir that it has caused in some circles.

  1. Some people just don’t have enough to do! (Not you, M Medved and others of his ilk). I am looking forward to seeing the tap dancing penguins!

  2. If you do find that it’s offensive, anti-Christian propaganda, please do let me know! A healthy debate would be good. 🙂 I think the volume of posts recently shows that I clearly don’t have enough to do, either!

  3. I’ve heard Michael Medved’s name before, also in the context of mouth-foaming opinions about films, but I cannot remember what opinon or which film. I have a scary recollection that I agreed with him at the time though, which makes me worry, rather.

    Aphra.

  4. I think it’s unlikely, but I will let you know! Perhaps I could pretend that I find it offensive, just so we can have a nice healthy debate!

  5. Sorry, no offensive was taken, so I think a debate is off the cards! Pinguinos forever!

    • Bunny McLeod
    • March 23rd, 2007

    Penguins and tap dancing in the same film – how cool is that? I saw it before Christmas and loved it (and so did my 83-year-old Mum!). These moaning minnies who take offence at everything should get out more.

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