The penguins are coming. Have you noticed? You can hardly walk into a commercial center without being bombarded by penguin merchandise. With the advent of three entirely penguin based movies and others with penguin characters, it’s safe to say the media has gone south, very far south. You see, these penguins have a secret agenda. They are not what they seem. (Think more along the lines of the Madagascar masterminds hiding behind “cute and cuddly” facades.) These penguins are making a political statement.
Controversy surrounding a recent children’s book about penguins stirred up the community this time last year. And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson is a book about two male penguins who were mates for about six years in the Central Park Zoo. Roy and Silo gave up trying to hatch their rock and adopted an egg that was abandoned by another female in the exhibit to raise it (Tango) as their own. The controversy over the naturalness of homosexuality later died when Silo left Roy for Scrappy, a female penguin brought in from California, but the picture book undoubtedly made a potent statement in its very publication.
This incident seems irrelevant unless taken in conjunction with the release of this year’s movie Happy Feet. The movie takes an obvious stand on several potentially inflammatory issues. The environmental overtones are the most immediately obvious. Human environmental exploitation is clearly vilified. Corporate business is held directly responsible for the killing of the penguin’s food supply. A montage of clips showing evil businessmen debating the issue of penguin salvation with environmental activists and makes all business out to be profit hungry and calloused. In the mind of any child seeing the movie, big business and capital expansion becomes an obvious evil, but then what wouldn’t seem evil compared to a cute little penguin? Although, humans as individuals are empowered as the potential saviors of the penguins and other endangered species, it’s only through subscription to the green activism ideal that this can occur; by associating a happy ending with environmentalism, the two not only become synonymous to a child but the story gets its inspirational and uplifting moment quota filled.
The movie also emphasizes racial diversity, yet in such a stereotypical way that it almost negates its political correctness and washes out the banner of diversity that Mumble the main character champions. The Adelie penguins are clearly Latino, almost to an offensive point. A couple of rapper penguins are represented as the token blacks of the emperor colony. The mobster Skua birds could be considered Italian with some stretch of the imagination. Even the elephant seals have a non-descript blend of an accent somewhere between Scottish and Irish. However, in attempting to achieve a tone of diversity and acceptance, the protagonist, Mumble is praised for being different. (Thus satisfying the mandatory PC inspirational factor requirement of children’s movies)
In addition to some loaded environmental issues and a few comically disguised racial ones, the movie takes an anti-organized religion tone through the characterization of the aging patriarch emperor penguin, Noah the elder. Indeed, the traditional faith of the penguin is made to seem puritanical and stands in the way of the ultimate progress and salvation of the penguins. Could the character’s name be pure coincidence? The religious guru, Lovelace, the Rockhopper penguin, is clearly an Elmer Gantry type character. What absolutely wasn’t coincidence, however, was the long, zoomed-in shot of a Christian chapel on the outskirts of the human camp responsible for the exploitative fisheries.
Environmentalism, racial stereotyping, and organized religion are terribly heavy topics for a children’s movie. Is this not so subliminal messaging being regurgitated down the throat of the nation’s children by fluffy, dancing penguins? Parents surely don’t expect this behavior from these well-dressed, little aquatic birds. But, they shouldn’t be so surprised; remember the parental outcry when Skipper of Madagascar proclaimed to the world “Well this sucks!” upon reaching Antarctica? Maybe penguins just too darned forgivable. Maybe the “cute and cuddly” act works all too well. But now, the lesson is learned. These cuddly radicals cannot be trusted. You’ve been warned.