Off the whackjob charts — Media Matters reports that the Christmas warriors have taken cartoon penguin hostages.
Not content with their annual discussion of a supposed “War on Christmas,” conservative talking heads have taken on a new issue this season: environmentalist propaganda in children’s movies. CNN Headline News’ Glenn Beck and Fox News’ Neil Cavuto recently spoke out against Warner Bros.’ new animated children’s movie Happy Feet; criticizing the film for its alleged pro-environmentalist content. Media Matters for America spokesman Karl Frisch responded to the criticism, lambasting the conservative talking heads for their return to holiday-season absurdity.
“The idea that anyone would make such comments against a children’s movie about a tap-dancing penguin shows just how low the bar has dropped for what the media consider real news,” Frisch said. “Conservatives seem to have abandoned their traditional coverage of the supposed ‘War on Christmas’ for a ‘War on Penguins.’ “
Full disclosure: My daughter and I saw Happy Feet this weekend at the local IMAX cinema. My daughter is 26, btw. Except for the excessive number of rugrats in the audience, we had a fine time. Good animation, catchy music, Hugh Jackman doing an Elvis impersonation. What more could one want?
…in a November 17 entry on his Townhall.com weblog, conservative talk-show host Michael Medved referred to the film as “Crappy Feet,” and said it was the “darkest, most disturbing feature length animated film ever offered by a major studio.”
I take it Medved never saw Dumbo.
From the November 20 edition of Fox News’ Your World with Neil Cavuto:
CAVUTO: Well, those cute little penguins in Happy Feet winning at the box office, earning more than $42 million. Now, in the movie, the penguins are starving, the fish are all gone, and it’s clear that humans and big business are to blame. Is Hollywood using kids films to promote a far-left message? Entertainment critic Holly McClure says yes and it’s wrong. Holly, so you thought it was over the top?
McCLURE: Well, I did, Neil. I tell you. First of all, I went watching this movie thinking, “OK, great. A lighthearted, fun film. Love these animated pictures, and it’s interesting how realistic it looks.” And you get in there and you’re enjoying all the fun and frivolity, and, yes, it’s kind of a takeoff of the penguin documentary, and then along comes the subtle messages. And one by one they come in, and I felt like I was watching Dirty Dancing, penguin-style.
Perhaps McClure was watching a different penguin movie.
CAVUTO: Well, you know, Holly, I saw this with my two little boys. And what I found offensive — I don’t care what your stands are on the environment — is that they shove this in a kids movie. So you hear the penguins are starving, and they’re starving because of mean old man, mean old companies, Arctic fishing, a big taboo. And they’re foisting this on my kids who, frankly, were more bored that it was a nearly two-hour movie, and they’re kids!
McCLURE: Well, I’m just kind of curious. Were your kids scared or kind of bothered at all by the big walrus?
There was no walrus.
Because I thought there were some pretty intense scenes. I don’t call this a toddler — a little-kid-friendly movie.
The penguins are chased around by leopard seals and killer whales, but nobody dies. (Unlike in Bambi.)
… McCLURE: Well, what’s even more objectionable is the fact that they present all these things about man being mean, and taking the fish away, and the — you know, killing the wildlife and fish and penguins. And then furthermore, which, I don’t want to ruin anything for anybody, but to see penguins in an aquarium situation. OK, are we supposed to tell our kids then it’s not right to go to San Diego Sea World, or it’s not right to go to your local zoo, or it’s not right to have animals where you can go observe them? Should they feel guilty, then? I think the message is, “Yeah, we subtly put it in there.” But where does it stop? It doesn’t give you any solutions. So our kids should feel guilty, then, for enjoying to see wildlife, you know, in man’s environment?
My daughter commented after we left the theater that it was nice the humans in the film were not bad, meaning that they were not deliberately mean to the penguins. They just didn’t realize there were all these singing and dancing penguins that didn’t have enough fish to eat. (Should I post a spoiler alert? Oh, who am I kidding …) At the end people came to make a film of the singing and dancing penguins, the humans stopped taking all the fish, the hero penguin (Elijah Wood) gets the girl penguin (Brittany Murphy; not sexually explicit), and even the grumpy old penguin who didn’t approve of dancing (Hugo Weaving) was happy.
I suppose PETA could complain that the film says animals are only worth saving if they are entertaining.
On reflection, I suppose one could say the film makes fun of religion. The penguins have a penguin religion that venerates a mystical giant penguin. And a penguin character named Lovelace (Robin Williams) is depicted as a cross between a television evangelist and New Age guru. (The main penguin characters go on a heroic quest to get one of those plastic six-pack ring holders off Lovelace’s neck. I won’t reveal how that turned out.)
You might also argue that the film promotes family values, since the penguins’ highest purpose in life is producing chicks. This is why righties got off on March of the Penguins, which is about penguins producing chicks. Jonathan Miller wrote for The New York Times (September 13, 2005):
“March of the Penguins,” the conservative film critic and radio host Michael Medved said in an interview, is “the motion picture this summer that most passionately affirms traditional norms like monogamy, sacrifice and child rearing.”
Speaking of audiences who feel that movies ignore or belittle such themes, he added: “This is the first movie they’ve enjoyed since ‘The Passion of the Christ.’ This is ‘The ‘Passion of the Penguins.’ ”
In part, the movie’s appeal to conservatives may lie in its soft-pedaling of topics like evolution and global warming. The filmmakers say they did not consciously avoid those topics – indeed, they say they are strong believers in evolutionary theory – but they add that they wanted to create a film that would reach as many people as possible.
“It’s obvious that global warming has an impact on the reproduction of the penguins,” Luc Jacquet, the director, told National Geographic Online. “But much of public opinion appears insensitive to the dangers of global warming. We have to find other ways to communicate to people about it, not just lecture them.”
OK, but Happy Feet didn’t say a word about evolution, and I don’t recall anything about global warming. And Medved is OK with films that push his political ideas.
But if Medved was offended by Happy Feet, this news story ought to make his head explode:
Cetaceans, the group of marine mammals that includes whales and dolphins, have demonstrated remarkable auditory and communicative abilities, as well as complex social behaviors. A new study published online November 27, 2006 in The Anatomical Record, the official journal of the American Association of Anatomists, compared a humpback whale brain with brains from several other cetacean species and found the presence of a certain type of neuron cell that is also found in humans. This suggests that certain cetaceans and hominids may have evolved side by side. The study is available online via Wiley InterScience at http://www.interscience.wiley.com/journal/ar.
Could humpback whales be smarter than Michael Medved? Hell, there are goldfish smarter than Michael Medved.