Around the holiday season, I had the opportunities to watch both the movies Happy Feet and Charlotte’s Web (the newer version). Both were pure delights. Does live action ever get this good anymore without animation added to it?
Happy Feet was the bigger surprise of the two, which is what the movie tried to be. It starts with such an innocent set-up, reminiscent of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, but with a dancing penguin. It’s well into the movie that it turns into a quest-type adventure and that sneaks up on the viewer so subtly that you almost don’t see what’s coming. The environmental message of the movie is in stealth mode and even when it becomes clear, the message boils down to “love everyone” more than “save the Antarctic ecosystem.” At first I was confused by why so many characters were voiced by Robin Williams and by the chaotic assortment of pop songs running throughout the movie, but it all ties into the message and how we can all communicate with each other, or “sound alike,” no matter what our musical preference or species. Of course, being a huge Beatles fan, I loved how the song that was most important for expressing the movie’s true message at the end was “The End,” with the line, “the love you take/is equal to the love you make.” I was bawling like a baby at that point.
Speaking of being reduced to tears…my mother tells me that I did see the original animated version of Charlotte’s Web when I was little, but I had no memory of it. Nor did I ever get around to reading the book. You don’t get to be 36 years old, though, without picking up some serious spoilers about what happens to the spider. I still could not believe how much I was moved by it. For at least the last half-hour of the movie I was crying on and off. Actually, it was Wilbur saying, “I don’t want to die” that first set me off. Who hasn’t felt the same? Mortality and friendship and how the latter bridges the former are the themes of this movie. It is too big a stretch to say that the trip to the fair counts as a quest adventure, but there are other more obvious parallels, such as the use of animals as human metaphor and the importance of finding a way to communicate with humans. Who hasn’t felt the same about communicating with humans?
It’s almost frightening what can be done with computer animation these days, though I was heartened to learn in the Charlotte’s Web DVD extras how live action footage of animals was used as much as possible. I’m pretty sure that the humans in Happy Feet were all live action humans, though I haven’t confirmed that yet. The amazing thing is how easily the two synch together now. Remember how amazing this was when Who Framed Roger Rabbit came out?
A+ for all movies mentioned!