Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Happy Feet Two & Homosexuality in the Animal Kingdom

I went along to the Melbourne premiere of Happy Feet Two yesterday evening. Writer/Producer/Director/Chilli Button Aficionado George Miller was there (albeit sans chilli buttons for the first time I can recall), as was Robin Williams, who provides multiple voices throughout the animated film. For all of its faults - a rather uninspiring plot and, at times, aimless scripting - the film still more or less works thanks to the spectacular oddness that Miller injects in the proceedings. The original Happy Feet was certainly unafraid to be strange, and this sequel is the same, which is a refreshing change of pace from other animated films of 2011 that have all but had the whirring sound of the assembly line playing on the soundtrack. Happy Feet Two shares far more in common with Rango than Arthur Christmas, despite their similar chilly settings. Some good musical numbers (Pink's "Bridge of Light" should be an Oscar contender) and rather stunning animation and effects work made my initial misgivings about the project somewhat unnecessary. It's certainly much better than that other unasked for sequel to a 2006 animation hit, Cars 2. It's no patch on the original, but I suspect it's quirks will take longer to wedge in the mind.

One thing I didn't expect when I sat down in the cinema, however, was that Happy Feet Two would become the first mainstream animated film to feature an openly gay character. The only other one I can think of is The Spongebob Squarepants Movie, and yet even that didn't feel as blatantly open as Miller's toe-tapping adventure flick. I may be stretching the term "openly gay", but I find it hard to believe that anybody could deny the character of "Bill the Krill" is another other than a homosexual who is in love with his best friend, "Will the Krill". As voiced by Matt Damon, Bill not only expresses his desire to spend all of his time with Will (the voice of Brad Pitt), but suggests they adopt baby krill together. There's even a moment where Will, when he allows Bill to join him on his quest (a secondary plot strand to Happy Feet Two's narrative in the vein of, but much funnier than, Scrat in the Ice Age films), he tells Will "no hanky panky". Will - the alpha male in their little (ahem, pun unintended), special bromance - is clearly aware of his friend's preference and no real issue with it. Bill even sing's Wham's "Wake Me Up Before You Go Go". Hello!

The relationship of Will and Bill is the one aspect of Happy Feet Two that actually works on a three act arc. The rest of the film seems to dawdle about and rarely shines new dimensions on its characters that we didn't get from the original film. By film's end, Will has seemingly realised that he is in love with his best friend and wants to spend his life with Bill. The two crustacean share a literally eye-opening embrace and a speech about what it means to be a part of a community that is frequently looked down upon. The idea that krill are generally ignored by the bigger, badder animals of the Antarctica waters, despite their importance, feels awfully similar to the argument that gay men and women help make this world go around, but when asked to be given equal rights are frequently denied and told they aren't of any real concern. Penguins, whales and seals could, in this hypothetical allegory, be seen as the "every day working families" that the GLBT community are so frequently told by governments are more important; the ones who really matter.

I feel like I'm entering a rabbit's warren of make believe and fantasy, but I genuinely believe that George Miller is the sort of filmmaker who would very deliberately, and consciously, make an otherwise unnecessary subplot of his big budget animated film into a much larger portrait of a social issue he has a desire to explore. Will's desire to separate from the swarm seems, to me, to be a clear sign of his curiosity and desire to explore the world outside of the standardised norms that society has placed on him. He has many experiences - let's just say he ends up in a lot of foreign mouths - but eventually returns home to be with Bill and together they prove that one person can make a difference and an army can change the world. That they enact this by celebrating en masse in a sea of dancing and neon light is just beautifully-animated gravy. A gay nightclub for krill under the sea is not something you're ever likely to find in a Pixar or Dreamworks production, that's for sure.

Happy Feet Two is currently in release in America - sadly flopping, which has resulted in hundreds of people losing their job [EDIT: please read the comment section regarding this bit of information as it seems it is being misreported] - but is out (literally and figuratively) in Australia on Boxing Day. Am I alone in seeing the very obvious gay tones of this movie?


Jake Wilson said...

"Foreign mouths" - LOL. Weird movie, but you've got me convinced on the krill agenda.

Anonymous said...

Happy Feet 2 PG rating wil now be reviewed by the Classification Review Board after a submission was made. Do you it could be from religion fanatics because of homosexual undertones?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great review.
One note however....
I think its important to point out that many people did not lose their jobs after making this film.

Dr.D Studios was a wonderful place to work. Nearly all vfx artists were hired purely for the duration of the film (which is standard in this industry).
Our contracts finished and we moved on to our next projects.

A few people have been made redundant at the end of the project this is true. But, the comments that are being misquoted throughout the media that "over 600 people have lost their jobs" are unfounded and unfair to those of us who worked on the project and to our director George who supported us to the end.

As an example of the lack of ill feeling towards our studio and how happy we are with the end result, many of us attended the Sydney premiere and were overjoyed by the positive reactions children were having throughout the film. (Some children even started dancing).

Happy Feet Two was a wonderful project to work on and its great to see people appreciating the beautiful imagery.

Anonymous said...

No, you are not alone. I was quite surprised by the gay theme, but I did not discuss it with my 8-years old daughter. I think it a matter of the American political correctness - children are expected to approach all manifestations of social life in a natural way.
Still, it's a milestone in children's animation!

Glenn Dunks said...

Anon 11.21AM - I believe it's Village Roadshow who made the submission. They are arguing the rating should be G and not PG.

Anon 12.37PM - Thank you for the response re Dr D Studios. I was merely going off of the general gist of the story that people are reporting, but thank you for doing a bit of a clear up for us!

Jessica said...

My friend and I watched this last night. We were so very excited to see these characters in a children's film. It was quite obvious to us that this was intended to be a homosexual relationship. It is an enormous win for children's movies. I have seen characters as individual's (like the manatee in Little Mermaid: Ariel's new beginning) but not couples.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I'd like to point out that Bill sings songs by freddy Mercury as well as Rick Astley, who are both gay