Surf’s Up: Making the World Safe, One Penguin at a Time
June 8, 2007
Another plane, another train, another bottle in the brain, another girl – another fight, another–Penguin movie? I don’t mean to sound all ibiteyoureyes (except when a do, a boogaloo flu) but why? Hasn’t the world had enough penguin movies recently? Don’t consumers get tired of all these movies about our antarctic neighbors? Let us recap!
First there was March of the Penguins. Actually, let’s start earlier. First there was Batman Returns, the darkest and most brilliant of all the Batman movies. Yes, convention holds that Burton’s first Batman, and Nolan’s Batman are the two best, but convention is wrong (excepting when that convention is the 1896 Democratic National Convention. Down with the gold standard!). Burton’s second movie is a brilliant combination of gothic elements, Fritz Lang movies, industrial horrors, sexuality, and B movie schlock. Christopher Walken’s Max Shreck steals the show as an industrialist-cum-vampire (or is that the other way around?) who plots to have the Penguin become mayor. Sadly, the Penguin is more concerned with revenge then elections, and his candidacy implodes. But his evil grows, and he eventually straps bombs to the backs of penguins in the greatestest scheme to destroy Gotham ever. SPOILER ALERT: Batman saves the day!
As collaborators in one of the greatest criminal ploys of all-time, penguins had a terrible image in the public consciousness for well over a decade. Finally, a scant two years ago, Penguins received the brand rehab of a lifetime when Cheech and Chong decided to make a documentary about Penguin mating habits. Suddenly penguins were adorable creatures, bereft of all interests other than reproduction (they certainly did not want to blow up Gotham!). Abetting this whitewashing was Lucious Fox aka Morgan Freeman, high-ranking Wayne Enterprises executive, and designer of the Batmobile. His presence in the film was an implicit name-clearing by Batman himself. And if Batman had come around on Penguins, who are we to hold them responsible for all the world’s crimes?
In the wake of Dance Dance Revolution and Dancing with the Stars mania, penguins got their acts together and learned how to dance, dance, dance in Happy Feet. This movie was proof that computer animation sells itself. Just compare the success of Happy Feet to Footloose. Both deal with religious themes, and questions of social mores, but one has penguins and not-Josh Lithgow and was drawn on a computer in some factory in Australia. In other words: big hit.
But now we have a new penguin movie: Surf’s Up! Other then drugs (the likely reason), I’m not sure why this movie was made now. What societal values does this movie represent? What is this movie reflecting? I can’t help but notice that John From Cincinnati is also premiering this weekend. Perhaps Sony decided to do a little family friendly counter-programming to counteract what they were sure would be HBO’s next big smash (remember, HBO released March of the Penguins). Still, spite seems a little much, especially since John From Cincinnati is as likely to set the world on fire as Carnivale. No, the real reason for this movie’s release is far more nefarious.
Surf’s Up has been made to convince us that global warming is a positive thing. Why should we worry about warm weather destroying the penguins’ natural habitats? Global warming’s just going to give them more time to surf! By putting a positive image in our minds, the studios are telling us that we shouldn’t worry at all. Penguins may have struggled to mate in Antarctica in March of the Penguins, but surfing/dancing penguins will have no problems scoring chickens at the Castle in Hollywood. It’s a beautiful world.