Thursday, May 27, 2010

Happy Feet

Mumble the emperor penguin, in a zoo, yelling at humans: "Hello! Hello from Emperor Land. Good afternoon. Why are you taking our fish? I'm sure you don't mean to, but you're causing an awful lot of grief. Am I not making myself clear? I'm speaking plain penguin. Penguin! Don't you understand? You're stealing our fish! Please! Anyone! Talk to me! For pity's sake, you're stealing our F-I-S-H!"

Voiceover: "After 3 days he would lose his voice. After three months, he would all but lose his mind."

And that right there is when I fell in love with the movie Happy Feet. It took the movie over an hour to get there, but this scene... Whew! The protagonist, Mumble, is in a zoo, put there after he's found on a beach. A beach he ended up on after swimming after a fishing barge. A fishing barge he swam after because he wanted to tell the "aliens" to stop taking their fish. The "aliens" who were taking their fish because, well, why do we eat fish again?

Right after the voiceover tells us Mumble all but lost his mind we see him with the other penguins, swaying back and forth with a vacant look in his eyes, mouth open as fish are thrown over a ledge and down to the penguins.

Anna was watching this scene with a friend of hers the other day and she said, "This is a happy and sad part."

I asked her why it was happy and sad.

"It’s sad that he’s in a cage and it’s happy that he gets fish."

I was pretty proud of her for recognizing that something could be happy and sad at the same time. And yeah, free fish falling from the sky could be seen as a positive aspect of zoo life. But at what price? Penguins can't really be penguins when they're stuck in a zoo.

And of course, the movie (being a kid's movie) gives us a simplistic view of things. The fish in the ocean aren't any more the penguins' as they are the humans'. Nobody owns the fish. The fish aren't possessed by anyone (that is, until they're captured or eaten).

Here's how I explain it to Anna:

Penguins need fish to live. Without eating fish, penguins would die. They have no choice. Fish don't want to be eaten, but penguins have to eat them to live.

People do not need fish to live. Without eating fish, people live long, healthy lives. We have a choice. Fish don't want to be eaten and we don't have to eat them to live.

She understands this. In fact, she seems to completely grasp the concept.

At the end of the movie the "aliens" decide to stop fishing (at least in the area around Antarctica) and the fish's numbers grow and the penguins' famine is over.

When this happens, Anna's gets happy. She has no aversion to carnivores. She sees nothing wrong with a penguin eating a fish and I see nothing contradictory about that fact.

It's all about choice and the ability to choose. And I'll write more about this in a future post. Specifically, I'll write about how I've explained non-human omnivores to her. For example, bears eat plants and fish. But if they can live on plants, then why do they eat fish? It seems like we intuitively know the answers to questions like these, but try explaining it to an almost-four-year-old.

It's not easy, but it sure is fun.

Anyway, a little more about Happy Feet. There's a part where a leopard seal chases Mumble with the intention of eating him. This is a little harder to explain to Anna, since she's rooting for Mumble to escape. Here we get into the complexities of narrative a little more. The leopard seal is portrayed as a "bad guy", but on the face of it, he's just trying to eat what he needs to eat to live.

Leopard seals eat penguins, penguins eat fish. Who we root for is dependent solely on the story. In a few years, Pixar will come out with a touching movie about leopard seals and we'll all root for them to catch the penguins.

My point is that accepting and appreciating the need for some animals to kill and eat other animals to survive does not contradict an animal rights position. The animal rights position is dependent upon the fact that we as humans do not need to exploit animals in order to survive. We don't need to eat or wear their flesh, we don't need to drink their lactations and we do not need to scramble their menses every Sunday morning. It's all unnecessary.

If it were necessary; if we needed animal products to survive - if we could not survive without them - then there would be no animal rights movement. There may still be an animal welfare movement though who would say (as they pretty much do now) we should still own, rape, exploit and kill animals because we have to ... but do it a little nicer, m'kay?

Luckily for us and for those exploited non-human animals, there's another way. We can live just fine by eating plants.

But this was supposed to be a review of Happy Feet. Let me just say that there are a couple overtly and covertly sexual parts to this movie. Just so you know. I mean, it's nothing that big. Just stuff like one penguin saying, "Gloria! Gloria! I want to see more of ya!" And there's some talk of making love. There's this one quick scene where, no joke, two penguins are stumbling over each other on the ice and manage to hit all the major sexual positions. I don't think Anna picks up on a lot of that stuff, but even if she does I'm not too worried. We're open about the biology of sex with her.

In fact, just the other day I heard her saying to Liam, "Do you see birds outside, Liam? Are they having sex, Liam?" Then she asked us what sex was again, I explained it to her and she then explained it to her baby doll.

Oh, and there's a nice "rational thinking trumps superstition" theme that comes into play at the end of the movie. Have I mentioned that I love Happy Feet?

It's a musical, too. There's a ton of music and dancing in it, which is why I think Anna considers it her favorite movie. It's a movie and a work-out for her. I'm actually quite sad that they don't make more musicals these days. And I'm looking forward to the day when she's old enough to watch West Side Story. Mambo!

Well, I'm rambling. I'm going to reward you now for sticking with me for this long. Here's a video of Anna dancing to the end of Happy Feet. The video didn't pick up the sound of the movie, so I threw in a song by Malajube.

So, have any of you seen Happy Feet?

Vegans, how have you talked about the movie with your kids?

Everyone else, same question.


radioactivegan said...

wow, that girl has got some moves!

mmg said...

Man, Anna is a funny kid. I love that she's explaining sex to a) a 1 year old and b) her doll. Awesome.

I haven't seen Happy Feet, but now I wanna!

BrisVegan said...

Oh, that scene at the zoo! I was in tears at the theatre when we first saw that.

My kids were a bit older, when we first saw happy feet. We had similar discussions to you, though I didn't pick up on the availability of food in the zoo. However, it has been the most overtly anti-zoo kids movie that I have ever seen. Amazing that it got made with such a strong message in it and without it being reversed like Bee Movie's initial anti-honey story.

If only we could have the same outcome and stop fishing!

BrisVegan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BrisVegan said...

Sorry, double comment above.

Anonymous said...

Wahoo, that's quite some dancing! I haven't seen Happy Feet yet, but I have had discussions with my daughter about animals that eat other animals. She enjoys playing with toy animals and making them eat whatever they are supposed to eat. She knows that some animals need to eat meat but that we don't eat meat. When I ask her if we eat meat she says "no, we eat FOOD, cause I'm am a vegetawian" She knows sharks need to eat fish but that we don't. Now the contraditions come in because my husband loves to fish. He hardly ever eats fish, but it's more about health than anything else, he doesn't feel the same level of compassion towards fish as I do. So he still occasionally goes fishing. So my daughter says she wants to go fishing with him, but I don't think she really knows what that means. I have a feeling she won't like if she ever sees what it's really about!