**WARNING: This post contains spoilers**
I was tricked!
One of the main reasons people quote for disliking Happy Feet is basically “it got too preachy”. In other words, they expected fluffy penguins and fluffy penguins only. To a degree I’d say that’s fair enough. Certainly the trailers and the super-upbeat title never hinted at the darker edge that runs throughout the film – a darker edge that becomes more prominent in the final act.
These reactions span the entire range from disgruntled people expressing minor disappointment, to all out kooks calling for the director to be imprisoned. It’s tempting to only pull apart the extreme reactions but that’d be assuming the crazies represent the entire group of Happy Feet haters. So first let’s look at the most understandable reason for feeling duped by the movie – the environmental message.
Tree hugging hippies!
The most obvious counter-argument is that the environmental messages are relevant and important, but I want to make a different point – that the environmental angle was the logical direction for the movie to take.
If we accept that stories require conflict to maintain interest, it seems unlikely that a film purely about a bird that prefers dancing to singing would cut the mustard. The stakes had to be raised. Also, once Mumble was ostracised by his fellow penguins it made sense that he would be evicted from the colony, and once that happened, how could he be accepted again to give the story a happy ending? Something big had to threaten the lives the penguin colony (or at least their way of life) and Mumble had to save them from it. Perhaps this could have been achieved using predators as the threat but that would have defied the degree of realism that the movie was aiming for. In general, only baby Emperor penguins are unlucky enough to be killed by land predators, and sea predators (like leopard seals) don’t kill nearly enough adults to make a serious dent in penguin numbers. So, short of inventing an enormous flock of super-smart predatory birds that group together for one big offensive Lord of the Rings style, there was only one place for the movie to go … “humans did it”.
People have also expressed confusion at how a handful of humans watching a colony of penguins performing synchronised dance moves could lead to the whole world agreeing to stop over-fishing, thereby giving the penguins their food source back. But to me it’s a great satirical comment on human behaviour. I think it makes perfect sense that the average person would care very little about the plight of an animal, but once it was found that the animal could do something entertaining and unexpectedly human-like, we’d all suddenly become very interested, leading us to look closer at their situation and take drastic action to ensure their well-being.
For even Mr. Burns once promised that he would never wear the skin of animal, as long as the animal could do an amusing trick.
Won’t Somebody Think of the Children?!
“It’s anti-God and religion, it’s racist, there’s sexual overtones and a couple graphic sexual positions when the two young penguins are falling over each other. It seems like it’s pro homosexuality (not that there’s anything wrong with that, lol) it’s anti human for some reason. Gawd I hope this isnt the future of kids movies. I don’t mind people expressing there views but keep it the hell out of a children’s movie.”
The above quote about Happy Feet comes from IMDB user, cyberria, but it isn’t unique. The internet seems to be full of people claiming similar things. If you believed it all you could end up thinking the film is insidious filth and propaganda in the same category as Antichristor The Human Centipede. So perhaps I only love this movie because I don’t have any children so I’m not concerned about warping their precious little minds …
Then again, probably not.
Let’s keep a level-head and briefly address the above concerns …
- It’s Pro-Homosexuality. It’s only when coupled with the anti-religious claims that the pro-homosexuality thing makes a teeny-tiny bit of sense. I almost want it to be true, but if such a message is there, it’s pretty damn subtle. The idea that the kids will pick it up is preposterous. Plus there’s the point that all the penguins are quite implicitly portrayed as hetero.
- It’s Full of Smut. The main thing people point to here is a scene where Mumble and his love interest, Gloria, collide with each other as they exit the water. They bump into each other a number of times before coming to a halt, and supposedly every collision represents a sexual position. It’s more likely the result of a phenomenon where adults can’t help but attach sexual connotations to innocent things, and again it’s nothing that the kids are going to notice. Basically it holds about as much credibility as the claim that the makers of The Lion King spelled SEX in the sky for a frame or two.
- It’s Racist. Different penguin species are given characteristics of different human races to further the idea of individual penguin nations. It’s also used for comedic effect but it could hardly be called racist because the “ethnic” penguins aren’t depicted in a derogatory way. In fact, they open Mumble’s mind to other ways of living and give him the courage to “save the world and get the girl”. If anything, there’s a positive message to be found about people of different creeds and beliefs coming together to overcome shared problems.
- It’s Anti-Human. I’m not sure what to make of this one. I suppose it’s the same as the “tree hugging hippies” argument.
- It’s Anti-God. It isn’t. For one thing there is a scene early on where the Great ‘Guin appears above the male penguins as they fight through a winter storm. To me this implies that in the penguin world at least, God exists.
- It’s Anti-Religion. To be honest, it is … a little. Let’s look at this one in a bit more detail.
It’d be hard to deny there’s subtext in the movie that’s critical of organised religion, but I don’t think it warrants any extreme reactions. For one thing (I believe) it’s subtle enoughthat young children won’t pick it up. Also, the pseudo–religious leader characters aren’t portrayed as pure villains – they’re just misguided. Lovelace may use false tales and pulpit-preacher style bravado to manipulate penguins en masse, but he’s also a lovable rascal. Then there’s Noah, the leader of the Emperor penguins, who follows tradition in the face of adversity and lays the blame on the very change that could save his kingdom. But he is surrounded by advisors who encourage him to make such foolish decisions and he does eventually see the error of his ways.
I see Noah’s actions as the equivalent of fundamentalists blaming horrible natural disasters on the decline of Christian morals in modern society, or the Catholic Church standing staunchly against condom use despite countless deaths from AIDS occurring in Africa, ie. the more extreme aspects of organised religion. Importantly I don’t see it is an attack on people peacefully using faith to lead happier lives or to help others.
So although I admit the anti-religion streak is there, I really enjoy that aspect of it – and that’s coming from someone who actually goes to church.
And that’s about all I have to say about that (without boring everyone to death, including myself). Next week I’ll move on to something different, I promise. Until then have an awesome New Year’s!
Liked this? For more about quality family films, check out my mini-review of every Studio Ghibli (Miyazaki) film ever made.