It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature
Talk about subverting mother nature. In the guise of an environmental message –stop overfishing for the sake of tap-dancing penguins– Happy Feet screws up everything. Forget ecosystems, it wants you to unlearn social systems. This movie builds upon our awareness of the selfless Emperor Penguins from last year’s Oscar-winning documentary and marches it straight off a cliff of ice. Calfs it right into the warming ocean.
Happy Feet is a Footloose attack on the seemingly dogmatic tradition of penguins to value an individual’s vocal heart song as opposed to tap dance. Although, such a presumed rigidity might not be unexpected from a society of birds which spends two thirds of the year balancing eggs on the tops of feet. Emperor penguins have no limbs with which to retrieve an egg should it fall by accident unto the ice. One of the heartbreaks of March of the Penguins was to learn that an egg succumbs to exposure within seconds of rolling upon the ice.
For the children perhaps, Happy Feet soft pedals the harsh brutality of Mother Nature. Getting past that, the movie befuddles us with what it means to work individually toward a mutual goal. Collectivity is portrayed here as mind numbing, spirit killing conformity, as opposed to biological imperative, genetic behavior.
But let’s address a real pop misconception. It’s not herd mentality. It’s herd. There’s nothing wrong with humanizing the animals, but don’t let’s pretend to learn something from them, the fiction of us.
There’s a preacher penguin in the movie whose head towers over the rest, the archetype of the sinister puritanical demagogue. This character keeps every penguin in line by shaming those who might stray. Do you recall ever seeing a penguin taller than the others? It’s one of the charms of penguins that they are all the same. Penguin behavior appears curiously random to us, yet at the same time it’s as mechanized as dominos. There is a deeper leadership somehow, and I think it’s what humans are seeking for ourselves.
Happy Feet is the message you get when there is no God but Coca Cola. When product placement rules, not even secular education is served.
The Lion King highlighted the Disney monarchist reordering of nature. It’s lovely to think of the lion as the King of Beasts, but it’s certainly very silly. No animal rules another except for interpersonally. Looking at man’s natural order, isn’t it rather silly to think that one idle fat man should lord over others who labor?
Ant armies are not led by ant generals. Queens may be the backbones of insect colonies, but they are not social architects. Penguins and ants may have something to teach us about how human beings can someday achieve balance with nature. It might have something to do with conformity and a sense of collective purpose. We know already it doesn’t come from Marx or Jesus, it’s something farther inside.
I’ll bet you right now such an inner compass will be more like a penguin’s heart song and less like a tap-dancing, individualist, obey your thirst, just do it, gotta be me, fool.