Friday, December 22, 2006


What is it about penguins?

When I was a child, McVities urged us to P-pick up a Penguin! A P-p-p-penguin!

Later I remember my mother coming home with Sirdar yarns to make us cardigans, jumpers, hats and gloves in beautiful colours, but for speciality yarns, it was Pingouin. (Both syllables rhyme with the French pain, producing a sort of placid quacking sound.) Mind you, she absolutely detests knitting with the hair of the Mo, so our jumpers were usually Sirdar double knit, and the more exotic yarns were reserved as texture detail in her luscious wool tapestries.

When Habibibaba was a toddler, the picture that made our one chick feel cosy was of an Emperor Penguin family. Hardly surprising, really. And in his duffel coat, he had the proportions of a penguin chick!

Then along came Pingu. Given half a chance, we would all watch Pingu!

When we moved to Dubai, my mother, realising we might need an antidote to all this sand, started sending us cards from Paper House's Eric the Penguin range. Here's one that she missed, just for Habibi!

Then last year, out came:
which I still haven't seen, but I'll get to it sometime soon (anything involving Morgan Freeman - ooh!).

And today, Habibi and I took my birthday cinema ticket vouchers and went to the IMAX to see


Great fun. If you haven't seen it yet, I shan't spoil it for you. My thoughts are on the comments page!

After we came out, Habibi disappeared into a shop to do something secret (No, not shoplifting! Huh!) and I found a seat in Costa's from which I could watch the world go by, and ordered an espresso. I am so glad I did.

A little Chinese boy, aged about four, must have just been to see Happy Feet, because he started dancing, quite oblivious to the rest of us. He had all the movements too: arms out to the side like penguin wings, skittering feet, turns, travelling sideways and back again, all with a private smile of pleasure on his face; he was a natural, and it was just gorgeous to watch him so wrapped up in the moves, and the music in his head. After a while, his father appeared with a half-filled shopping trolley and indicated that his son should climb up into the seat. Up he got quite happily and away they went. They were out of sight by the time Habibi got back. Shame!


MamaDuck said...

Happy Feet sets out to provide terrific entertainment and an uncompromising message, and I would say it works on both counts.

From Bugs Bunny to Watership Down, to Chicken Run, to Madagascar, there have been plenty of anthropomorphic cartoons and movies, and since the 1980s many have introduced ecological and environmental elements. The general message is: animals clever, funny, innocent, cute; humans bad.

This is reinforced when the creatures in question are small, and human beings are shown to scale, or with heads that alternately recede into the far distance; and loom at our plucky young rabbit, fish or chicken with tombstone teeth and bloodshot eyes; massive hands clutching fiendish metal devices.

While it's essential to educate children about human impact on our home planet, I think there's a danger of overkill, of sending a message to our four-year-olds that as a species we're innately hopeless, selfish, destructive, savage, and doomed. The trouble is, as they will conclude as they get older, if we're that bad, there's not much point in trying to improve things, is there? Memo to the new generation: Enjoy it while it lasts, boys and girls, because tomorrow we die, taking everything with us.

Happy Feet is different, in that although it is evident early on that the crisis somehow derives from human activity, there is no individual evil schemer or identifiable vested interest to accuse and outwit.

Instead the problem lies with impersonal industrial practices, and public ignorance of and indifference to the impact of those practices.

The human race is presented as blinkered and clumsy, but essentially well-intentioned, and ready to change its ways when given good reason. Catastrophe is averted because the men and women in grey suits, and the public at large, are open to persuasion and prepared to act for the greater good.

Happy Feet is delicious entertainment, and whether or not I can buy the ending - the charm and zest of the characters; the contrast between the pristine Arctic ice and the dilapidated whaling station and mist-shrouded hulking fishing boats; and finally, those zooms between one desperate tap dancing penguin and our small blue planet - everything combines to make me want to.

I wonder how much that that little Chinese boy absorbed.

nzm said...

Sounds like you enjoyed it - good choice to spend the vouchers on!

We've just come back from seeing Babel and thought that it was very good.

My inner daemon is a penguin! I found that out about 6 years ago!

BTW - they're making Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy into movies!

Look out JKR!

MamaDuck said...

Excellent! Thanks for the link to the website. His dark Materials had just finished at the National when I was last in London. I ordered the script and the book on making the show for our department, but haven't had a chance to read them. A creative mix of actors and sophisticated puppets that are more an extension of the actor than a fully separate entity - appropriate, don't you think? I hope the film proves to be a happy collaboration. I watched Holes with some of our kids on the last day of term. It's based on Louis Sachar's novel of the same name, and the director Andrew Davies enlisted hom to write the screenplay, with very satisfying results. It's interesting that Philip Pullman sticks to what he knows, and leaves adaptations to specialists in their own medium.

nzm said...

I think that it would be fun and a challenge to put on HDM as a stage play - for the very reasons you state.

I guess that Pantalaimon could only have one form!

Hmm....seems that you're in synch with The NZ Herald - they've also written an article on various penguins!

Jin said...

We've just got Happy Feet from the nice Chinese lady, but have saved watching it until Chikkin arrives (I'm currently counting the minutes.......*sigh*)

Anyway, just popped in to say Happy Crimble to you hon, plus Keefieboy & habibibaba (hope that's right!)
All the best & may you have a smashing New Year. xxx

halfmanhalfbeer said...

Mamaduck: A very Merry Christmas to you and yours. Looking forward to reading all about your Christmas in the New Year!


nzm said...

Yes - Happy Christmas from us too, and hope to see you again when we're back in January!

Mme Cyn said...

We took your recommendation and went to a Christmas Eve showing of Happy Feet. GG was swept away, and I thought it was pretty darned good, too. What struck me most (believ eit or not) was the artistry of the ice -- truly amazing. Thanks for the rec. And Merry Christmas!