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Old 04-26-2008, 04:44 PM   #1
Superhobo
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Default Metaphors and symbolism in George Miller's films

I've posted up a collection of interpretations from various reviewers on my little o' blog, for those who're interested (and I'm sure you're legion). Head over there and give it a look see.


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Old 04-26-2008, 05:00 PM   #2
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NOTES - Metaphors in Happy Feet - Various interpretations from different reviewers

- - - -

"The script has the clever idea of interpreting the penguins’ encounters with human civilization in terms of an analogue for alien abduction. It makes for an appealingly intelligent metaphor – a penguin with a tracking tag on its leg is seen as an abductee; the remains of a mining base as alien artefacts; and in one scene the image of an icebreaker moving through the fog becomes something akin to the mothership of lights from Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). There’s a completely lovely scene where Mumble is placed in a zoo and sees himself surrounded by a wall of human faces (which all come with an extraordinary degree of photographic realism). "

- - - -

"Mumble refuses to acquiesce to this kind of misology (he blames the fish recession on aliens, thusly discredited as a wild conspiracy theorist)."



- - - -

"The first time around, I too wondered why the humans would assume that a dancing penguin equals "we need to stop overfishing the seas." Best guess is that Mumble taught them while they were studying him. No fish, I curl up into a ball. If you feed me, I dance. Therefore when all the penguins danced, it said Feed Me. We hope.

Having said that, the odds that someone actually would release a dancing penguin if they found one are slim. Too many people would try to make money off it like Michigan J. Frog.

There definitely are religious themes in this film: theodicy, sincerity, sincere people being sincerely wrong, inflexibility as a hindrance to growth, and "rejoice without ceasing" in the face of suffering.

I've heard a lot of complaints about how most of the "denominations" illustrated were portrayed, but it's more complex than merely "Lovelace the con man" or "Noah the narrow-minded control freak." Noah and the elders remind me of Stiff Tail of Uhura's Song, with the difference that Noah denied the situation out of honest ignorance. That makes the Elders a (slightly) more sympathetic bunch, since there's nothing wrong with their faith or their ancient wisdoms. The Wisdoms have kept their people warm and safe. They simply had nothing in their background to account for a new invasive species called Man. (Penguins are still largely innocent of us, as humans only discovered the last continent a few hundred years ago.)

Mumble/Mambo is not a true Christ figure. Rather, he plays a sort of prophet role. His elders assume that Mumble has brought a curse upon their land; it never occurs to them that the Great Guin, if it is a penguin deity worth following, already knows their suffering and what to do about it. How do the penguins know whether Mumble (like Queen Esther) might not have been sent for just such a time as this?

Memphis is actually a reasonable choice for the Guin to entrust this unusual child, since Memphis, a reckless fellow in his younger days, figured that he was hardly in a position to judge. As long as Mumble's "happy feet" remained a secret, he wasn't going to send the child away. Now, when Memphis got caught, he made his relationship with his child conditional. (Fortunately Mumble was grown by now, so it wouldn't hurt him physically.) His horror at feeling he had to choose between his religion and his son was subtly portrayed, and mostly believable. We could say he "got true religion" when he realized that it begins at home. "There ain't been one day, not one day, that I done right by you." That part was heartfelt, but it shows how his grief overshadowed the (fewer) good things he did: his son grew up warm and fed and as safe as anyone could be. People aren't all one thing or the other, but a mixture. Isn't that why we have to choose?

Norma "Marilyn Monroe" Jean's unwavering loyalty to her son is touching; I don't know if the real Marilyn was given a similar role.

The Adelie Amigos also showed iron loyalty. They came across as immature and lazy around the female penguins (refusing the grown-up role of building the nest), but they probably saved Mumble and Lovelace's lives in the blizzard country. They also honored Mumble's request to watch over his mother -- a particular comfort to him since it turned out Mumble's dad had lost his way and Norma Jean would have been totally alone without "her boys.""


- - - -

"When Mumble is brought to the zoo, he is practically losing his mind and his will to live. But while doing a playful tapdance in response to the little girl tapping on the glass, he creates a human fascination with this newfound "gimmick". The result, after much debate amongst humans, is to send a team down to Antarctica to witness the penguins and find ways to help them get the fish supply back to normal. The last scene is of the penguins and humans dancing and celebrating together. Isn't that a happy ending? Well, in my opinion, no. I think the film is suggesting that while it's great that the humans used their power for good at the end, would they have done anything at all if not for the unique gift possessed by Mumble? Why did it take a celebrity penguin to get humans to act at all? Furthermore, I think the ending is actually a bittersweet scene. After seeing the dark side of human overindulgence, all of the sudden we see this miraculous tapping into our good nature and we save the penguins. And though this scene is a wonderful celebration of what could be if we would only take better care of the natural world, it becomes bitter because we know all too well that humans aren't likely to cooperate with the natural world to that extent. In other words, I felt the last scene teased us with a glimpse of utopia - humans and animals cooperating for the good of all - but we don't live in utopia, and with the exception of small pockets we are not treating the natural world with respect. Perhaps the last scene is a glimpse of what heaven will be like, with humans and animals enjoying each other and celebrating the end of the competition for survival."

"And the Dancing Fool returns to Emperor Land transformed into a Hero. Mumble is a Truth Seeker."

- - - - -

"Well, to each his own, I guess, but I think all the criticisms of "heaviness" are kind of sad. First of all, the issue IS that heavy -- actually far MORESO but this isn't the politics forum so I won't get into it. Second, that heaviness makes for great drama. Once they find out Lovelace is being choked by the can-holder it starts to build, and gets heavier and heavier until it culminates in a moment of down-right despair when Mumble bangs his head on the wall at the penguin pen.

That kind of despair is what creates such a touching moment when the little girl and Mumble connect and things spiral back to a happy ending. Humans aren't just heartless, mass-fish-consuming "annihilators" -- we are also empathetic and able to change for selfless reasons.

You may say, "Hey, I don't go to a cartoon to see that kind of thing" - but maybe you should. What is it you want - a movie like "Cars" that gives you a nice comfortable little jerk-off and then you forget about it the next day? A movie that allows you to leave your heart and brain in the car when you walk in the theater. In that case, you really ought to see Tray Parker's new movie "Idiopolis" to see where our culture is headed.

For me, I want drama. I want movies to engage my brain and my emotions, animated or no. And as for this being a kids' movie, I don't really think it exactly was -- and if kids see it and based on that decide not to eat seafood because the fishing industry is EEEEEVIL, what the heck is wrong with that? It's true!!! God forbid we actually get a little education with our all-important ENTERTAINMENT.

Beg pardon. I'm lousy with names -- I tend to focus more on the message. Point is what it is though.

Kate.lin, your English seems pretty darn great to me. I'd be hard pressed to express what you did in Chinese!

I haven't seen any films by the director you mentioned, but will have a look.

As for your criticism of naivety and schism within the film, well, it's a subjective consideration, but I didn't see it that way. I thought it was a rather subtle play on the theme of humans as merciless and technologically-advanced aliens from the perspective of an isolated species -- which ultimately transforms via the main character's perseverence in trying to communicate with us into a more benign "Close Encounters of the Third Kind". This theme gets brought in right off with the initial outer space shot that focusses in on first Earth, then Antarctica. We have a sort of space/Earth; Earth/Antarctica parallelism there that sets the stage for the dynamic that will be developed. Very quickly, it is more concretely manifested with the sea-gull's story of alien abduction, and it plays out from there.

What you guys saw as a giant Greenpeace sign (when the fishing trauler is first seen by the penguins), I saw as the citizens of New York and LA looking up at the giant alien ships enveloping their entire cities in shadow in "Independence Day". They are getting their first "real" view of the "annihilators" that have been described to them. (When you consider the methods employed by the fishing industry these days - drift-nets, bottom-trauling, 2-mile-line fishing and so on to catch an ever-dwindling supply of sea-life for the bottomless stomachs of nations like Japan and China, I think the depiction is accurate).

This portrayal is tempered, however, by the child at the zoo, who, unlike the headless adults, is able to make a connection that establishes communication through Mumble's quirky method of self-expression. (Come to think of it, this aspect calls to mind the children in this story, who kept craning their necks to see the virtuoso violinist as their parents pressed on, headlong and headless.)

The "second part" of the movie is not just about environmentalism, it's about Mumble's not backing down -- neither to his own kind, nor to an alien menace, nor to the mind-numbingly huge distance that separates them (That distance, and the isolation it creates, is the reason that penguins were the proper casting choice for this movie - although admittedly they have been kind of trendy ever since "Madagascar"). Moreover, this portion of the movie - as in "Close Encounters" - is about establishing communication when words or voices fail.

I think when we get down to it, what makes people uncomfortable about this movie is not "heaviness", but that it portrays all-too-accurately our race as it would initially be perceived by a species that first came into contact with us. With the whole "self-esteem" movement in education and Doctor Spock in parenting, feeling guilty is definitely "out" these days -- "Don't preach to me" is everybody's slogan -- whether they need preaching or not."


- - - -

"The point in Happy Feet at which the adult viewership laughs in unison, while the kids smile obliviously, is precisely at the moment at which Mumble’s salvation plan succeeds. The sight of heads of state and UN ambassadors angrily demanding an immediate removal of the threat to the penguins’ existence is, surely, supposed to be comical, because we adults know how unreal is the prospect.

That is Happy Feet’s equal-best political joke. The second is the fact that the penguins can only survive because they function as a specific example of how non-humans might titillate humans: that, in short, humanity is too stupid to cope with the idea of animal rights, environmentalism, or whatever we wish to call it. Is the sight of the penguin tribe desperately submitting to the necessity of pragmatically tap-dancing not the most upsettingly pathetic spectacle? Mumble’s political genius does not come from overturning the false traditions of Guin-worship, but in recognising that the penguins’ true masters are not gods, but men. Our hero exposes the materialist basis of his people’s subservience, but only so they might submit to its permanence and invincibility. At the very moment the penguins are liberated from superstition, they are enslaved to reality. I ask you: are the penguins really “freed” to dance, when the alternative is death? These “happy feet” are the most dialectical of symbols.

If Happy Feet has to be attributed a “radical” political force, then, said force does not come from advocating a policy of Mumble-mimicry, but from flagging up the two key obstacles to genuine environmental reform: the intransigence of world leaders (alluded to by comic inversion) and the narrowmindedness of popular conceptions (represented by humanity’s pathetic motive: the novelty of the spectacle). The fact that these problems seem to be alluded to intentionally (though probably not so seriously) is a credit to the film-makers."

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Old 04-26-2008, 05:04 PM   #3
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Default Re: Metaphors and symbolism in Happy Feet

Dammit, fool! I wanted blog visitors!


But, seriously. Your thoughts?

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Old 04-26-2008, 05:18 PM   #4
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Default Re: Metaphors and symbolism in Happy Feet

In awe....that you actually paid attention to Happy Feet.

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Old 04-26-2008, 05:22 PM   #5
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Default Re: Metaphors and symbolism in Happy Feet

Most of those weren't written by me - just ones I found interesting.

As for the film itself, yeah. It's one of my favorites, primarily for it's depth - far too often I see it compared to stuff like it's "sorta" progeny, "Surf's Up," when it's much more akin to something like "Watership Down."

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Old 04-26-2008, 07:16 PM   #6
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Default Re: Metaphors and symbolism in Happy Feet

This is gonna fall right off the front page. Herm.

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