Mashup Feet

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Dec 262006

Today we took the kids to the movies to see Happy Feet. It was pretty good, I thought, but also clearly a movie that could not have existed without March of the Penguins. You had to know the other movie to appreciate this one. You knew exactly when the sea lion was going to threaten, you knew precisely how dangerous the birds of prey were, only because you had listened to Morgan Freeman’s voice describing it in great detail before. Only because of the documentary could you really know how the cold might affect the penguin egg that eventually births Elijah Wood — er, I mean, Mumble.

In effect, this was a dance remix — with much the same message as the original movie. And in itself, it embraced the dance remix and mashup model: songs mashed together constantly, redone in fresh ways and no so fresh. The music credits were endless, because every penguin has a pop song in its heart.

Leaving aside the question of whether this diminishes penguins, it led me to think, as I was struggling to get my car out of the overly tight parking space, about mashup culture, and about how it’s now taken for granted in this way. A major release that depends on having seen another major release — and not as a spoof, but as a remix. This isn’t Spaceballs we’re talking about.

But then I got to wondering how modern that really is.

In less than a geological epoch
                said Henry Mencken
“Some cook, some do not cook,
        some things cannot be altered”

What counts is the cultural level

– Ezra Pound, Canto LXXXI

Everything old is new again. Even penguins. Even a style of mashup reference which depends on a notion of a current of literacy that runs through a culture. Today, perhaps, our frame of reference may seem pop-cultural rather than elite, but when I see the amount of stuff my kids learn about our culture and our shared references from cartoons, I am stunned once again at the breadth of human culture and the way in which we develop shorthand.

In the cartoon, Mumble the penguin is the son of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe. Naturally, he is the savior of everyone, with his tapdancing feet (and he gets the diva as a reward). Pop culture as apotheosis. The final exaltation is all the penguins doing the wave.

In the theater where we saw it, the movie was applauded at the end. Ezra Pound, not so much. 🙂 But everyone still works that grand tapestry, in one way or another.

Depressingly, I had to explain who Robin Williams was by telling my kids, “he was the dad in RV.”

  8 Responses to “Mashup Feet”

  1. “He was the genie in Aladdin” is much more flattering, Raph 🙂

  2. I don’t know, I personally, and every one i know really, enjoyed the movie, but are SICK of the penguin agenda.

  3. […] This post was inspired by one at Raph’s site on his having seen "Happy Feet" and remarking on its connection to "March of the Penguins." […]

  4. They haven’t seen Mrs. Doubtfire? *ponders*

  5. Saw the movie (Happy Feet), but was a little turned off by the political overtones in it. 99 percent of the time when I see a movie, I’m not looking to be swayed one way or another, and I just want to be entertained.

  6. Well, the only way to reach the American public these days is with entertainment. It’s not like this is a new concept either, as people have been putting messages into crap for ages. We just went through the Christmas season, which is absolutely filled with stories promoting certain values. The difference between those old stories and a movie promoting environmentalism is that environmentalism has not yet become common value of the American culture.

  7. I might be one of the few people on the planet that saw March of the Penguins AFTER Happy Feet. That said, I got it without the documentary telling me the horrors of sea birds and freezing weather, although I will conceed that the feature probably got greenlit on the success of March of the Penguins.

    Of course the guys in red suits at the end can only be appreciated if you’ve seen March.

    Disclaimer: a really great friend of mine did the Mo-Cap for Happy Feet. But that doesn’t stop me from agreeing with Wade. The political overtones, especially at the end, were very distracting.

  8. A friend of mine said, about the end, when the helicopter landed: “Homo ex machina.”

    I laughed.

    Per a comment on my blog r.e. this topic… “Happy Feet” was apparently well under construction by the time “March…” was released.

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