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anthropomorphic munchies redux


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#1 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 03 November 2003 - 11:42 AM

SPOILERS GALORE

Some of you may recall the thread on 'anthropomorphic munchies' that I started up on the old board after seeing The Wild Thornberrys almost a year ago. Now, with Finding Nemo coming out on DVD this week and Brother Bear freshly arrived in theatres, I am finally working on an article on this subject, and so I have begun the research phase -- i.e., I have begun to watch a lot of kids' cartoons. I am hoping to do some thinking out loud and to post some observations here, but the rest of y'all are welcome to jump in and prod my thoughts hither and yon.

The first film I saw for this project was the recently re-issued The Lion King (1994), which of course begins with the 'Circle of Life' sequence in which a bunch of animals pay tribute to the birth of a lion that will, presumably, grow up to eat them and their offspring. Sample lyrics: "Some say eat or be eaten / Some say live and let live / But all are agreed as they join the stampede / You should never take more than you give." Taken literally, this seems odd to me; I have eaten many organisms over the years, but I am only one organism myself, so on one level, I have taken a lot more than I can give, and this would certainly be true of ALL organisms, I think. Is there some OTHER way that I am giving back as much as I have taken, I wonder? (And how do a corporate behemoth like Disney, or a millionaire rock star like Elton John for that matter, apply these lyrics in their own lives?)

The first thing we see after the 'Circle of Life' sequence is a non-talking mouse being caught by Scar, the villainous lion; Zazu, the Rowan Atkinson bird, comes along and prevents Scar from eating the mouse, but then Scar stuffs Zazu himself into his mouth, and it is only Mufasa's arrival that saves Zazu from becoming Scar's next meal. So, Scar is a bad guy, and Scar eats tiny helpless creatures. Are we supposed to think Scar is cruel and cowardly for going after such tiny creatures? We DO see him give a leg of zebra to the hyenas later on; but then, I believe it is the lionesses, not the lions, who do the hunting in a pride, so Scar probably got this leg from one of the girls; but then, by that same token, Mufasa probably gets his food from the women, too. (Interestingly, in the DVD commentary, there is some talk about how the animators worried over whether they could actually show meat in the hyena sequence.)

There is, of course, the scene in which Mufasa teaches Simba to "respect" all creatures, including the antelope, and Simba protests that they EAT antelope, and Mufasa says that this is okay because the antelope eat grass that grows out of the carcasses of lions such as themselves. Very soon after this, Mufasa teaches Simba how to hunt by telling Simba to pounce on poor Zazu. But we never get a sense of what it would be like for these lions to "respectfully" eat the animals who live under them and bow down before them whenever one of them is born. The closest we get to this is when Nala stalks Pumbaa the warthog (while Pumbaa is in the middle of stalking a non-talking insect! -- the hunter has become the hunted!), but she seems as determined and creepy in her own way as the hyenas do, and when she discovers that Pumbaa is a friend of Simba's, suddenly they're all chummy (a fact that Timon the meerkat -- who resisted becoming Simba's friend at first because "lions eat guys like us" -- also finds a little odd, when he says, "Everyone's okay with this?").

A few random other notes: The film emphasizes the teeth of the hyenas when they chase Simba, both visually and in the lyrics ("Our teeth and ambitions are bared"); the lions' teeth are not so emphasized. As far as the film is concerned, it seems to be okay to eat bugs because bugs don't talk and don't act like people anyway, but one does have to wonder how Simba can grow up to be so big and strong on such stuff. And finally, in the climactic battle, Pumbaa makes himself bait for the hyenas, and the hyenas eventually kill Scar.

The next film I saw was Ice Age (2002), which I watched right after seeing Walking with Prehistoric Beasts -- what a combo! The interesting thing about this film is that pretty much ALL the animals can talk, and they all share the same language, but the humans do not -- as one animal even says to another, "Save your breath, Sid. You know humans can't talk." (In the commentary, the director said he wanted to keep the humans "mysterious ... like they were animals ... pets".) We see very little of the humans, but we see enough to know that the parents love their children, the babies are cute, the men run around with pointed sticks, and the women are not above dying to protect their young. The animals, on the other hand ...

Well, there's Manfred the woolly mammoth, whose family was wiped out by humans, and there's Diego the sabretooth cat, whose pack has similarly been devastated by humans; Diego's chief says he wants to eat the human chief's baby because "his daddy wiped out half our pack and wears our skin to keep warm -- an eye for an eye, don't you think?" Of course, "an eye for an eye" doesn't work very well in human societies, so, now that we've anthropomorphized the animals, the film is largely about Manfred's willingness to forgive the humans by returning their baby to them, and Diego's conversion to Manfred's way of thinking. And along the way, we never actually see Diego EAT anything, or anyone, though there is one cute gag where Sid the sloth plays dead in Diego's jaws, to avoid getting beat up by some rhinos, and then Sid says to Diego, "Boy, for a second there, I actually thought you were gonna eat me," and Diego replies, "I don't eat junk food." But this just makes you wonder, what DOES Diego eat? (In an earlier, not-so-light moment, Diego does threaten Sid, "Watch your back, 'cause I'll be chewing on it.")

The implicit moral issues surrounding animal and human nutrition are further complicated by the way the good guys use distinctly human terms such as 'vegetarian' (as when Manfred says, "I thought rhinos were vegetarians") and 'vegan' (as when Sid says, "It's hard to get fat on a vegan diet"), rather than 'herbivore' and 'herbivorous'. Perhaps this sort of language was meant purely as a joke -- in a ha-ha,-they're-talking-like-humans sort of way -- but the use of these words does kind of suggest that animals can choose what to eat, and that some choices are more moral than others, rather than the fact that animals are naturally designed to eat certain things, and sometimes they are specifically designed to eat other animals.

One of the film's subplots also involves Manfred teaching Diego lessons like, "That's what you do in a herd. You look out for each other." As SDG noted in the earlier thread, the implication here seems to be that the sabretooth pack wasn't a proper herd, or that the sabretooth cats weren't really looking out for each other, simply because they are mean, nasty carnivores. In true anthropomorphic fashion, we are supposed to think of the sabretooth pack as a gang of selfish villains held together by a leader's threats, while we are supposed to think of the herbivorous herd that Diego joins as something better and nobler.

Okay, that's all I've got time for now. More movie notes to come. And perhaps even the start of something resembling a thesis.

#2 zahir

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Posted 05 November 2003 - 10:07 AM

I thought this might be worth quoting:

From The Narnia Chronicles. Book 6 - The Silver Chair. Chapter 9.
QUOTE
They were eating cold venison a kind of food Jill had never tasted before, and she was liking it.
Suddenly Puddleglum turned to them, and his face had gone so pale that you could see the paleness under the natural muddiness of his complexion. He said:
\"Don't eat another bite.\"
\"What's wrong?\" asked the other two in a whisper.
\"Didn't you hear what those giants were saying? 'That's a nice tender haunch of venison' said one of them. 'Then that stag was a liar,' said another. 'Why?' said the first one. 'Oh,' said the other. 'They say that when he was caught he said, Don't kill me, I'm tough. You won't like me.'\" For a moment Jill did not realize the full meaning of this. But she did when Scrubb's eyes opened wide with horror and he said:
\"So we've been eating Talking stag.\"
This discovery didn't have exactly the same effect on all of them. Jill, who was new to that world, was sorry for the poor stag and thought it rotten of the giants to have killed him. Scrubb, who had been in that world before and had at least one Talking beast as his dear friend, felt horrified; as you might feel about a murder. But Puddleglum, who was Narnian born, was sick and faint, and felt as you would feel if you found you had eaten a baby.
\"We've brought the anger of Aslan on us,\" he said.


It seems to me (and I don't pretend to be wholly original here) that the criteria used to distingish the "proper" way of feasting on a fellow animal on these movies are purpose/intention and the capacity for moral decision-making. Intention is used to indicate when a killing is wrong ("I hate animals that kill for pleasure", Manny says to the rhinos) or right (lions eat antilopes for survival reasons). On the other hand, if the animal being feasted upon understands the meaning of good and evil then it is a wrong killing (sabertooth tigers should not eat Mannie because he's capable of forgiveness and they are not). That's why it's ok for Timon and Pumba to eat insects, they don't have a soul and don't discern such matters (Why are insect amoral? Just because they are small? Size prejudice, it seems); and the insect feast is thus very emphasized and much is made out of it, in contrast with the feasting of antilopes by lions, which is dealt with ambiguity. Timon's confusion is wholly justified because there's a real problem here. An unsolvable ambiguity (1) concerning purpose/intention: the sabertooth tigers want to eat Mannie, not out of cruelty, but because they're are hungry and want to survive. The filmmakers "solve" the problem by making them a vile pack (a leader uncapable of mercy, a smug rival for Diego, a crazy psycopath and a unpopular fat boy); but what if, after delivering the baby to his father, Mannie and his friends ran into a different pack of tigers; one filled with brave individuals pushing forward for the survival of their families. What would be the moral outcome once Mannie and gang were finished with? (2) Concerning moral choice: You may need to eat an antilope for survival, but if the antilope asked for mercy what should you do? Note that the antilopes that ultimately kill Mufasa don't know what they are doing. They behave like real animals unable to discern that it is wrong to run over the helpless lion. If the animals of The Lion King can switch moral behavior on and off, how can they eat fellow animals with "respect"?

C.S. Lewis solves the problem elegantly. He eliminates all the morals ambiguities by differenciating Talking animals from Non-talking animals. In Narnia Talking animals are moral sentient beens who deserve respect. No Talking animal should be killed by another ever, that'd be murder (except in cases of self-defense, or war; but that's another story). Non-talking animals also exist in Narnia, they are not different from real animals and are much smaller than Talking ones. They can be killed and feast upon for survival reasons, but the way you treat them is tightly related with your moral stance. Goodness to Talking animals translates necesarily into goodness to Non-talking animals, manifested in compassion and a lack of cruelty towards them. Compassion and cruelty of less moral significance than those shown to Talking animals, but important as a display of your moral stance, nonetheless. Lewis indicates, then, that there's no moral/purpose ambiguity; there's good, there's evil; there are good reasons for doing things, and bad reasons. All of our acts involve moral assessments and have moral valencies of their own.

I hope I didn't get out of hand and the quote is of some help. Your research is very interesting, Peter. Please let me know if your article will be on the Net. I'd like to read it.

#3 zahir

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Posted 05 November 2003 - 01:55 PM

Oh! I forgot to mention an Esopus' (I think it's Esopus) tale that brilliantly ilustrates the purpose/moral choice dicotomy. I'm pretty sure you've heard it, but I'll summarize it anyway. The frog agrees to help the scorpion cross the river on its back after the scorpion pledges not to sting it. In the middle of the river the scorpion fiercely stings the frog and as both drown to their death the frog asks him "Why did you do that? Now we are both going to die." "I wanted to keep my word, but what did you expect?," the scorpion answers, "I'm a scorpion and I did as is my nature." There must be a more "official" wording of this tale.

Unlike scorpions, humans grow beyond our nature through moral choices and our "purpose" emerges from our moral stances, not the other way around (in the case of animals purpose is an end per se, without the intervention of the moral). Again, I hope this is of some help.

#4 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 05 November 2003 - 02:23 PM

zahir wrote:
: Oh! I forgot to mention an Esopus' (I think it's Esopus) tale . . .

I think we spell it Aesop, but yeah, I have thought about that story too -- though I know it mainly from the scene in The Crying Game where Forest Whitaker tells it to Stephen Rea. Thanks for your other comments; I'm a little swamped by Matrix-talk right now and I think I'd rather put off theorizing about these films until I've collected more data, but I'll be getting back to your comments eventually.

And speaking of data, I saw Disney's Brother Bear (2003) a couple days ago. As expected, the film is about a Native American who thinks bears are "monsters" and kills one in revenge after it kills his brother, and then the spirits turn him into a bear himself, to teach him a lesson about the "love" that "connects all living things". (Earlier, when the shaman woman gives him his bear-shaped totem and tells him it represents love, the protagonist says in disgust, "Bears don't love! They don't think, they don't feel!") Now that he cannot speak in human language, but he CAN speak the language that is apparently shared by all mammals, the protagonist befriends a young bear cub and discovers that bears regard humans as "monsters", and surprise surprise, it was this young bear cub's mother that the guy killed; the mother was, of course, trying to protect the cub when she killed the protagonist's brother. However, there is still room for carnivorous activity here -- the bears do eat salmon, after all, though there is an amusing clip AFTER the closing credits have finished, in which a bear says to the camera, "In accordance with state and federal regulations, no fish were haremd in the making of this film," but then we see a salmon screaming for its life in the background as another bear chases it back and forth across the screen, and the bear facing us nervously tells the camera to stop rolling. FWIW, the deceased elder brother returns as a spirit who sometimes morphs into an eagle -- a bird that, I note, happens to be a predator in its own right.

Oh, and this film was preceded by a trailer for Disney's next film, Home on the Range (2004), in which a cow says she doesn't eat meat, as "a professional courtesy". One of the singers listed in the trailer is k.d. lang, who is, of course, adamantly vegan.

#5 zahir

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Posted 05 November 2003 - 03:10 PM

QUOTE
I think we spell it Aesop...

Silly me! Thanks! I log in at work and don't have a dictionary at hand for this kind of stuff (I'm also too lazy to check out the net smile.gif ).

Also, remember to check out Dinosaur.

(ADDED-LATER WARNING. Note to self: Never post on a hurry!)
And if you don't have the stomach for Dinosaur, do revisit the animated version of The Jungle Book for a much more entertaining treatment on survival.

#6 SDG

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Posted 05 November 2003 - 03:26 PM

Peter T Chattaway wrote:
Oh, and this film was preceded by a trailer for Disney's next film, Home on the Range (2004), in which a cow says she doesn't eat meat, as "a professional courtesy". One of the singers listed in the trailer is k.d. lang, who is, of course, adamantly vegan.
Wait, say more about that. I thought Disney didn't have any more 2D animated projects in the pipe? Don't tell me they've got a home-grown computer-animated project in the works?

#7 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 05 November 2003 - 03:56 PM

SDG wrote:
: Wait, say more about that. I thought Disney didn't have any more 2D
: animated projects in the pipe?

As per the earlier thread on that topic, Home on the Range will apparently be the "last" traditionally-animated Disney film, at least for now.

#8 mike_h

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Posted 05 November 2003 - 05:00 PM

I can't wait to see the end of your research on this, Peter. The whole Talking Animals thing has really twisted my brain at times. (Or maybe I'm twisted to begin with.) Like how come Goofy can talk, and Pluto can't? What's up with that? And the cheeriness of the "Circle of Life" has always bugged me, since the implications are clearly never thoroughly explored. Then there's the notion of inter-species relationships, like in the Fox and the Hound, when they begin to map racial tensions over the treatment. Or overlay other things: as in the even dicier inter-species relationship in Beauty and the Beast. (There's a moment when Chip is asking Mrs. Potts what's going on between Belle and the Beast and she says "I'll tell you when you're older..." that always gives me the heebie jeebies.) Thank heaven things work themselves out at the end, but some pretty strange questions are raised. Good luck on working it all out!

#9 M. Dale Prins

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Posted 05 November 2003 - 11:15 PM

: The whole Talking Animals thing has really twisted my brain at times....
: Like how come Goofy can talk, and Pluto can't? What's up with that?

As I am lazy and was remoteless, Sunday morning I watched an entire episode of "Blue's Clues." It was ho-hum children's programming, as I had expected -- it certainly doesn't have the experimental avant-garde stylings of "Teletubbies." But.

So Blue and some cat that he apparently lives with (as a brother-sister equivalent) head off to school. And there's, I believe, seven animal children in this classroom: three dogs, the cat, some kangaroo maybe, a frog perhaps, a monkey. Whatever. So they're all going around in a circle talking about their favorite color, and while all the dogs talk in Blue's incomprehensible manner, every single other animal talks in a straightforward Midwestern accent! Very, very strange. But good strange.

Dale

#10 zahir

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Posted 06 November 2003 - 08:57 AM

QUOTE
The whole Talking Animals thing has really twisted my brain at times

The key here is the "Talking" thing. We assume that the ability to express our choices through speech equals moral behavior. That shouldn't be very far from the truth, since the only species we know to "talk" has a strong inclination towards the moral consideration of its actions (I mean us humans, of course. Bear in mind I'm being eupheministic. The Moral Law, rather than an inclination, is real and universal). Animals can't talk, but if they could then you'd have the problem of coordinating their "talking morality" with the real purpose-based animal behavior.
QUOTE
Like how come Goofy can talk, and Pluto can't? What's up with that?

And how about Stuart Little talking to the familiy's cat while the cat can't talk other family members? And I always wondered if Balú the bear would be able to talk to other humans besides Mowgli. I didn't think so, since the idea is that they were both raised in the jungle; but The Jungle Book 2 shows him talking to other kids which was kind of a disappointment. Maybe it's adults he can't talk to.

#11 Amanda Caldwell

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Posted 07 November 2003 - 03:17 PM

The first film I saw for this project was the recently re-issued The Lion King (1994), which of course begins with the 'Circle of Life' sequence in which a bunch of animals pay tribute to the birth of a lion that will, presumably, grow up to eat them and their offspring. Sample lyrics: "Some say eat or be eaten / Some say live and let live / But all are agreed as they join the stampede / You should never take more than you give." Taken literally, this seems odd to me; I have eaten many organisms over the years, but I am only one organism myself, so on one level, I have taken a lot more than I can give, and this would certainly be true of ALL organisms, I think. Is there some OTHER way that I am giving back as much as I have taken, I wonder? (And how do a corporate behemoth like Disney, or a millionaire rock star like Elton John for that matter, apply these lyrics in their own lives?)
...
There is, of course, the scene in which Mufasa teaches Simba to "respect" all creatures, including the antelope, and Simba protests that they EAT antelope, and Mufasa says that this is okay because the antelope eat grass that grows out of the carcasses of lions such as themselves.



I think these two concepts must be related. That perhaps means that you cannot take the lyrics literally. (I'm not sure why you would, actually. For instance, I don't think "stampede" is meant literally -- I think it's meant to rhyme with "agreed.") Lions eat more organisms than antelope, say, but then they eventually, after death, become food for antelope as well as innumerable other organisms (like bacteria, maggots, etc.). In life, too, their participation in the "circle of life" helps balance life for all creatures. If they didn't eat antelope, the antelope would overrun the area, eating too much grass, leaving not enough food for other creatures, etc. -- upsetting the balance. If lions become greedy (which it's hard to imagine in real life, but in Disney life as a metaphor for humans, OK), they might eat too many antelope and so upset the balance in that direction. In human terms, it's perhaps too subjective to say whether one person (e.g., Elton John or you) or one corporation (e.g., Disney) helps or upsets the circle of life. I'm really not sure how to apply it to humans. In one sense, we're very much a part of nature, and in another we set ourselves apart from it or above it. We will die and become a tasty fertilizer snack for some other organisms, but in the meantime, we have a knack for eating too many antelope.

#12 mike_h

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Posted 07 November 2003 - 05:01 PM

The key here is the "Talking" thing. We assume that the ability to express our choices through speech equals moral behavior. That shouldn't be very far from the truth, since the only species we know to "talk" has a strong inclination towards the moral consideration of its actions...



And I'm reminded of our conversation on Code Unknown where MLeary and I were having a bit of a tug-of-war over whether Michael Haneke's film was about communication or ethics -- and it seemed to me that human communication inherently raises ethical questions -- along the lines of the question of the "morality and Talking Animals" discussion here. Whatya think about that, Leary?

#13 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 10 November 2003 - 03:05 AM

Wow, some great thoughts are coming up on this thread. I haven't had time to read or think about them in detail because I'm still in research-gathering mode, but it looks like there should be a fair bit to chew on here.

And speaking of research, I borrowed my brother's copy of The Land Before Time (1988) a few nights ago. I hadn't seen this film since it was brand new, and it brought back odd memories of a time when Disney (which released the ho-hum Oliver & Co. that year -- the Disney 'renaissance' wouldn't begin until The Little Mermaid came out one year later) seemed to be struggling with some pretty serious competition from independent animators like Don Bluth (who had had success prior to this with The Secret of NIMH and An American Tail).

I remember remarking at the time that the film was somewhat prejudiced inasmuch as the herbivorous dinosaurs could talk, and were thus easy to identify with, whereas the carnivorous dinosaurs (really only one, the T-Rex, or 'Sharptooth' as he is known here) could not. Seeing it now, I see that this prejudice is even more pronounced when you consider that one of the main themes of the film is that the dinosaur species have to learn to put their prejudices aside ("Come, Sera; three-horns never play with long-necks") so that they can work together for the common good; apparently this applies only the LEAF-eating dinosaurs.

I remember a cousin of mine talked at the time about how a Bible school professor had used a scene from this film to show how acceptable "murder" was becoming in popular culture -- I assume he was referring to the scene where the children plot to lure the T-Rex to his death ("Let's get rid of him once and for all!"), but since it is never established within the film that the T-Rex has the characteristics of personhood, I am not sure we can call this an act of "murder"; still, it's a remarkable bold endorsement of SOME sort of violence, since in films of this sort the evil creature, whether person or not, is usually killed in the heat of battle or by accident, and rarely in such, um, cold blood.

Apart from that, what else do we see? The film begins with a fish pursuing another fish, and then being pursued by a crocodile. A frog swallows a dragonfly. We see some insects sitting peacefully nearby a spider's web as the dinosaurs sleep soundly beneath them, and then we fade to the morning and the bugs are all gone, while there is dew on the web. This film also feels like a transition point between Bambi and The Lion King -- it has that death-of-a-mother, a-child-with-an-eclectic-group-of-friends thing going for it, but there is also talk of a "great circle of life" (though here it applies mainly to the birth, life, and death of an individual creature, and not so much to the idea that creatures are meant to feed off of each other).

Then, Finding Nemo (2003), though I was listening to the directors' commentary and not paying attention to the dialogue or anything like that. I will probably have to come back to this one -- though I note that the hideous barracuda and the angler fish are never given dialogue, but appear to be simply monsters from the deep, whereas the sharks are comical figures whose God-given need to eat fish is treated here as basically optional and, thus, an addiction. In this vein, I would like to quote my initial comments after seeing the film for the first time several months ago:
Saw Finding Nemo yesterday; thought the scene with the 12-step group for sharks trying to overcome their addiction to fish was hilarious. It reminded me of an old 1957 Looney Tune called 'Birds Anonymous' (which I just re-watched), in which Sylvester tries to overcome his desire to eat Tweety; at one point, he falls to the floor, sobbing, "I'm weak! But I don't care! I can't help it! After all, I AM a pussycat!"

I'm not entirely sure what I make of the idea that cats, which are more or less designed to chase after birds and such, and sharks, which HAVE to eat fish in order to survive, can be used as stand-ins for people who have bad habits that are NOT a part of our created design. But that, of course, is where the humour comes from, partly -- from seeing animals behave as though they had the will over their actions that we have.

Still, I feel a bit sorry for cats when 'Birds Anonymous' ends with Tweety saying to the camera, "Like I said, once a bad puddy tat, ALWAYS a bad puddy tat." Puddy tats aren't bad, they just follow their nature. Like the seagull in Finding Nemo says to the one fish, with a wink, "Sorry if I ever snapped at you -- fish gotta swim, birds gotta eat."
I will also have to go back and check the scene where the whale swallows Marlin and Dory -- it does so as it pursues some krill, and out of the corner of my ear, I could have sworn the krill had voices. But I could very well be wrong about that. More on this film later.

And then, The Wild Thornberrys (2002), the film that got me thinking about this subject in the first place. As I said on the old board:
For those who don't know, The Wild Thornberrys Movie is a spin-off of some animated Nickelodeon TV show (which I don't think we get here in Canada, but I'm gleaning all this background info from the film's prologue) about a family that travels the world and produces a TV show about wild animals. One girl has the ability to talk to animals because she freed a warthog from a leg-hold trap once, and the warthog turned out to be a shaman in disguise, who rewarded her by giving her this power; the only catch is that she cannot tell anyone else she has this power, or she will lose it.

The film is set in Africa, so of course, the villains are poachers. And the first animal the poachers take is ... a baby cheetah. A baby cheetah whose mother had just told him and his siblings that it was time to get some food. Hmmm. Do we ever see the cheetahs actually catch and kill an animal? No, though we do see a single cheetah chase an entire flock of gazelles. I'm still working out what to make of all that. Hunters have a very bad rep in children's films, and that is as true of animals who hunt for their food as it is for humans who do the same -- so while a film might acknowledge that an animal is a carnivore, it often steers clear of showing the moments when animal actually finds and kills and eats its food.
I forgot to note that we never hear the gazelles themselves speak, but since the girl in question can talk to squirrels and just about any other mammal that crosses her path, it stands to reason she could speak to gazelles, too, if she wanted. (Those who know the TV show better than I should comment on this, perhaps.) Interestingly, the girl's sidekick, a monkey named Darwin, is afraid to go meet the cheetah cubs at the beginning of the film because "to them, I'm a walking snack pack!" And when one of the cubs says (s)he can run fast, Darwin replies, "Fast? As in, able to outrun defenseless chimps?" An interesting implication throughout this movie, BTW, is that the girl's ability to talk to the animals immediately makes them friends of hers; I don't think we ever see a talking animal THREATEN her, though surely, a talking animal would have the option of doing this if he/she/it wanted to.

Not all the animals talk in this film -- when the girl and Darwin end up in a truck or bus with a bunch of chickens, the chickens simply squawk, and Darwin asks how he ended up with them. We also see an African boy named Boko fight a snake and throw it aside, though Boko cannot talk with the animals, so who knows what we are to make of that. But the film does suggest repeatedly that humans are just another kind of animal. In one scene, Darwin quips, "Are you still quibbling over that two percent difference in DNA?" In another, Peter Gabriel's 'Animal Nation' is featured so prominently on the soundtrack that the DVD's subtitles actually include these lyrics: "They say we are unique with this language we speak / But you have proved them wrong / Skinner and Chomsky, how could they be so blind / With evidence this strong / Intelligent life is all around us / Intelligent life is all around us." And the climax of the story comes when a bunch of elephants gather to commemorate a solar eclipse, and Papa Thornberry says intelligent creatures gather together at the eclipse because it gives them hope that that which is less powerful (like the moon, or animals) can stand up to that which is more powerful (like the sun, or humans).

And that's it for this latest update -- though I will note that Rugrats Go Wild (2003), which teams up the kids from the Rugrats franchise with the kids from The Wild Thornberrys, does feature a sub-plot in which one of the former franchise's infants swears off eating bugs because she has now decided to become a vegetarian.

#14 Amanda Caldwell

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Posted 10 November 2003 - 07:29 PM

Then, Finding Nemo (2003), though I was listening to the directors' commentary and not paying attention to the dialogue or anything like that.
[...]
Like the seagull in Finding Nemo says to the one fish, with a wink, "Sorry if I ever snapped at you -- fish gotta swim, birds gotta eat."



Is it a seagull or a pelican? The seagulls are also treated as personality-less creatures who say just one word, "Mine!" The commentary describes them as "rats with wings." They appear to want to eat anything and everything offered them but have no luck during the movie. They try for a crab who holds them off with a karate chop while he dashes away. Dory holds up a crab for them later as an incentive for the crab to dish out information. And they try to eat Marlin and Dory while the pelican tries to save them.

I will also have to go back and check the scene where the whale swallows Marlin and Dory -- it does so as it pursues some krill, and out of the corner of my ear, I could have sworn the krill had voices.



They squeal, "Run away!"

#15 Amanda Caldwell

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Posted 10 November 2003 - 08:53 PM

Then, Finding Nemo (2003) [...] -- though I note that the hideous barracuda and the angler fish are never given dialogue, but appear to be simply monsters from the deep, whereas the sharks are comical figures whose God-given need to eat fish is treated here as basically optional and, thus, an addiction.



(STILL SPOILERS GALORE!!)
I was pleasantly surprised by the treatment of the sharks. I had heard before seeing the movie that they were "vegetarian sharks." That and the fact that they were on the promotional material led me to believe that they were major characters who befriend Nemo and company and that sharks' true nature would be glossed over in the name of cross-species friendliness. I liked that the sharks were actually quite ferocious. I just watched the DVD's special feature on the design, and apparently the director kept telling the artists to make the sharks scarier. The sharks proved either that their meat-eating was not an addiction or that they had not triumphed over it by the fact that they either cannot or do not resist eating other fish: One fish invited as a guest doesn't make it out of the meeting alive, and Dory and Nemo are chased and attacked after the blood sniffing. It made more sense to me that they were minor characters, since they obviously couldn't safely be around these defenseless little fish for long. Only the clueless Dory can befriend them without the appropriate caution. Obviously, the 12-step idea is played for humor, but I did like how their essential carnivorous nature was affirmed. It was almost like sending up the conceit of lions being friends with birds or warthogs.

#16 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 22 November 2003 - 04:14 PM

Amanda Caldwell wrote:
: Is it a seagull or a pelican?

Argh, you're right, pelican. I keep getting them confused for some reason.

: The seagulls are also treated as personality-less creatures who say just
: one word, "Mine!" The commentary describes them as "rats with wings."

Yeah, personality-less, exactly. And yet they do, apparently, know how to talk! Sort of. smile.gif

: : I will also have to go back and check the scene where the whale
: : swallows Marlin and Dory -- it does so as it pursues some krill, and out
: : of the corner of my ear, I could have sworn the krill had voices.
:
: They squeal, "Run away!"

Thanks -- and wow, isn't that fascinating? I mean, between the scene with the krill and the fact that the friendly pelicans can still decide which fish to befriend and which fish to eat, Finding Nemo may go further than any other film in blurring the line between animals as 'persons' and animals as, well, mere lifeforms that we can kill for food.

: I liked that the sharks were actually quite ferocious.

Me too, though that just makes the idea that they can be 'friends' with the fish that much more, oh, I don't know, chilling? delusional? (I am thinking here not of the scene with the 12-step group, but the scene at the end, where the sharks make another appearance, IIRC.)

: Obviously, the 12-step idea is played for humor, but I did like how their
: essential carnivorous nature was affirmed. It was almost like sending up
: the conceit of lions being friends with birds or warthogs.

Which Pixar has kind of done before, actually, in A Bug's Life (1998), where the grasshopper played by Kevin Spacey says his exploitation of the ants is just "one of those 'circle of life' things." FWIW, I watched this film with my friend's kid while babysitting her a week or two ago, but I can't remember where I left my notes; ah well, this film doesn't loom very large in my memory right now, except to say that I recall the Black Widow spider played by Bonnie Hunt making a reference to the death of her 12th husband (we don't actually hear her say HOW he died, though), and the insects are terrorized by that giant bird (which, in the out-takes is 'revealed' to be a giant machine -- it's pretty much personality-less, too). I don't think we ever see insects or arachnids killing or eating other insects and arachnids, though.

In other news, I just watched The Jungle Book (1967) for the first time in many years. Unlike many Disney cartoons, this one begins not with a song but with exotic-sounding instrumental music, after which we see a panther named Bagheera find an infant and give him to a pack of wolves; the first time we see Mowgli as a boy, he greets the wolves by imitating their call, and it is not until after this scene that we hear anyone speak within the diegesis (by which I mean, the film's intro may be narrated by Bagheera, but up to this point, we have heard him in voice-over only, so he might have thoughts, but not necessarily speech, per se). And when the wolves speak, it is because they have decided that Mowgli is in peril -- the man-hating tiger Shere Khan is at hand -- so they must send Mowgli back to the "man village", even though he has never seen another human before. Needless to say, ALL of these animals are carnivores, but I don't think we ever see them eating; and when Mowgli comes across the monkeys and the bear Baloo, they all seem to eat nothing but bananas and other kinds of fruit. At one point, Mowgli also meets some vultures, but they of course only eat animal flesh after it's already dead, a fact that they even joke about, when they say they're bored and it's really "dead" where they are; and when they try to buck up Mowgli's spirits, they sing a song which includes the line "We've never met an animal we didn't like," and there is no hint that there might be something even remotely sinister or ironic about that lyric.

The only carnivores who go out of their way to kill for food are the villainous lip-smacking snake and, of course, Shere Khan -- who, the first time we see him, is stalking a deer, until it is scared off by the elephants (and no, the deer doesn't talk, at least not in the film). Interestingly, Bagheera says Shere Khan hates humans "with a vengeance" because he "fears" their fire and their guns, but there is no hint that Shere Khan might have any personal score to settle, like Diego's sabretooth chief does in Ice Age; instead, Shere Khan has a somewhat supercilious air about him, as though he delights in the thought of killing a human just because, well, why not, it suits his mood at the moment.

I was struck, BTW, by the way this film tries to sound really hip and up to speed on modern music -- but only to a point. There's a big emphasis on swing bands, as when Louis Prima sings the delightful monkey song (which contains one of my favorite lyrics: "I've reached the top / And had to stop / And that's what's bothering me"), and Phil Harris's Baloo (described by Bangheera as "that shiftless, stupid jungle bum") is constantly saying things like, "Right on! Yeah! ... Cool it! ... Wow, man, what a beat! ... I'm gone, man, solid gone! ... I was just taking five, playing it cool!" One of the vultures is even a Liverpudlian with a moptop (a Disney film referencing the Beatles, in the year that Sgt. Pepper came out?), and when we first see the vultures, the music features an uncharacteristic bit of electric guitar, and one of them talks about going to the east side of the jungle because "they've always got a swinging scene"; however, when the vultures sing, it is as a barbershop quartet. I have to wonder just what '60s culture made of attempts like these to appropriate their, um, alternative scene; Disney would be at it again a few years later, of course, with The Aristocats (1970), in which Phil Harris once again provides the voice of a "bum" (or rather, an alley cat) who is chummy with some real hep cats. (And if memory serves, those hep alley cats almost eat a mouse who is sent by the wealthy house cats as a messenger to go find Harris's character.)

One big surprise in this film, for me, was the bit where Bangheera and Mowgli believe that Baloo has been killed by Shere Khan, and suddenly a bit of church-organ music sneaks onto the soundtrack and Bangheera says things like, "Greater love hath no one, than he who lays down his life for a friend." Like, wow; there's another one for the Disney-and-religion file.

#17 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 27 November 2003 - 02:07 PM

I am embarrassed and ashamed to admit that someone has pointed out to me that Baloo, in The Jungle Book, does in fact eat animals within the film, when he sings 'The Bare Necessities' and tries to teach Mowgli how to eat ants -- and not just ants, but "fancy ants".

Ah well. In other news, I watched Dinosaur (2000) the other day, and it follows a template very, very similar to The Land Before Time -- talking herbivores good, roaring carnivores bad, and the talking herbivores have to learn to stand together and unite against the roaring carnivore so they can push it off a cliff, etc. It's also a story set during the beginning of the extinction that manages to end on an upbeat note somehow, as the dinosaurs discover that one special hidden green valley that can make all their dreams come true. The biggest difference between the two films is that the protagonist in Dinosaur, an iguanodon named Aladar, is raised by lemurs, so there's a pre-figuring of the rise of mammals here. And what's pertinent to this particular thread is the way the papa lemur refuses to raise Aladar, when he first sees the newly-hatched infant, because "It's a cold-blooded monster from across the sea. Vicious, flesh-eating. ... Things like that eat things like us as snacks." Mama lemur replies, "It's okay, we'll teach him not to eat meat." Cut to the first time we see Aladar as an adult (or at least an adolescent); he's chasing his lemur 'siblings' and putting them in his mouth -- but it's all just a game, and how could it be anything else, since iguanodons were actually herbivores? Interestingly, it is not only the dangerous carnotaurs (did such a beast really exist?) and velociraptors that do not talk; there is also an ankylosaur who pants and carries things in his mouth and generally acts like a puppy dog. He is basically treated by the other dinosaurs as a pet, which is interesting. (And apparently ankylosaurs were herbivores, too.)

#18 Anders

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Posted 27 November 2003 - 02:37 PM

Yes, Carnotaurus did exist (complete with the "horns"), though I believe it's remains have been found mostly in South America, where they've been finding many amazing new fossils in the last 5 years or so. They even found a carnivore (Gigantosaurus if I'm not mistaken) that is even bigger than T. rex down there.

#19 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 28 November 2003 - 12:34 PM

Thanks, Anders. I Googled "carnotaur" before posting that but it looked like almost all the web sites that topped the list were hawking Disney toys, so I had to wonder. More movie comments to come in the near future, but first, I have a screening to get to!

#20 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 29 November 2003 - 03:57 PM

And now for the E.B. White edition of this thread. I caught Charlotte's Web (1973) for the first time in YEARS a few days ago, and have been humming the music ever since; it was written by the Sherman brothers, who wrote the music for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as well as lots of Disney movies in the '60s (e.g. The Sword in the Stone, Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, Winnie the Pooh), and wow, it IS pretty good -- certainly much better than the somewhat sub-par Hanna-Barbera animation deserves, I think.

I have not yet read this book, but the film, of course, concerns a spider named Charlotte who wants to save the life of a pig named Wilbur. Wilbur is almost killed at birth because he's a "runt", but the farmer's daughter, Fern, intervenes and says it's an "injustice" to kill an animal for being smaller than the others; the farmer decides to let her raise the pig herself, just so she can see how hard it is, and he teases her about "trying to rid the world of injustice." Fern sings a love song to Wilbur and, at the pig's first birthday, her dad complains that "this pig now sits at the table like one of the family." This won't do, so he sells or gives Wilbur to another family, noting that Wilbur's siblings have already been sold off, and telling Fern that she must learn the hard facts of farm life.

The first animal who talks is a goose who greets Wilbur -- and Wilbur is shocked to discover that he can talk, too; this leads to an entire song called 'I Can Talk'. So somehow Wilbur never learned to talk while hanging out with Fern, but inter-species communication came to him instantaneously as soon as he lived with other animals. I don't think the film ever really clarifies whether Fern can communicate with the animals herself -- there is a scene where she tells her parents about all that goes on between Wilbur and the other animals, which would suggest that she CAN communicate with them, but I don't think we ever actually SEE her have any sort of conversation with them.

Relationships BETWEEN the species are treated, for the most part, like relationships between humans of different races or classes -- once we look past the external differences, everything about us is really the same. One song even says it doesn't matter whether you have hoofs or webbed feet, or whether you quack or neigh -- "What we look like doesn't really count an ounce / We've got lots in common where it really counts." And of course, one of the goslings takes a shine to Wilbur and tries to oink like a pig. But the whole purpose of Charlotte's web is, of course, to catch flies so that she can kill them and eat them. The flies, therefore, do NOT speak, and when Wilbur says that what she's doing is "cruel", she replies, "Do you realize if I didn't eat them, bugs would get so numerous, they'd destroy the Earth? Spiders are really very useful creatures." Nevertheless, in a much later scene in which a moth is caught in the web, Wilbur, who is more stressed out than usual over his fate, tells Charlotte, "Let it go! ... I just can't stand any more violence!" Also worth noting is that Charlotte sort of punishes the rat, Templeton, by telling him to look for food in a spot which just happens to be close to the farmer's cat -- and the cat merely hisses, it does not talk. Perhaps you have to reside within the barns and fences of the farm in order to speak.

And communication is absolutely central to this film, since the whole point of the story is that Charlotte uses her web to write words in praise of Wilbur, whose life is spared because he's "some pig ... terrific ... radiant ... humble" (though the farmer's wife does say, at first, that it would probably be more accurate to say that it is the SPIDER, and not the pig, that deserves the attention). The townsfolk call the writing in the web a "sign" and a "miracle", and the judge at the county fair says, "All we know is we are dealing with supernatural forces here" -- a line that bothered my dad when I was young, as I recall, because it seemed to him that the film was expressing skepticism in the supernatural, by suggesting that there wasn't anything supernatural going on at all, just a spider exploiting human gullibility.

There does seem to be something existential about this film. The story ends with Charlotte's death and the birth of her 514 children (but where's the dad?), and shortly before she dies, Charlotte tells Wilbur, "What's a life, anyway? We're born, we live a little while, and we die. A spider's life can't help being something ofa mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my own life a trifle."

Then, two days ago, I watched the two Stuart Little movies, and seeing them back-to-back, I have to agree with SDG's assessment that the second film is better than the first. For one thing, you can take the second film's villain seriously, and I'm a firm believer that even comedies work better when the villains are dead serious. For another, the parents are a little more differentiated (at least once, they DON'T finish each other's sentences accurately, plus there is that delightful bit where Hugh Laurie waxes romantic and says he'll wash the dishes for his wife any time, and then he privately, cheerily says to himself, "That way, I don't have to change the baby!"), and this gives depth to the harmony between them. And then there is the way the parents handle their son's lying to them -- a firm rebuke, but rooted in their love for their family. Also worth noting, I think, is the way the first film is all-too-perky from the get-go, whereas the second film starts on a softer, warmer note, with 'Put a Little Love in Your Heart' playing over the New York City skyline -- a nod to September 11, which happened several months before, no doubt. Oh, plus the sequel doesn't have any four-letter words or any fart jokes, at least not that I can recall.

Anyway, back to the point of this thread. Stuart Little (1999) makes much of the fact that Stuart (voice of Michael J. Fox), who talks to the humans and wears clothes, is treated as "family" by the humans while Snowball (voice of Nathan Lane), the cat, is just a pet. When Stuart is first brought home from the orphanage, Snowball jumps in from out of nowhere and catches Stuart in his mouth, and before he can swallow, Lauire demands, "You spit Stuart out this instant, Snowball! ... Stuart is one of the family now. We do not eat family members!" When Stuart is tucked into bed, Snowball walks up onto the bed and expresses his displeasure when the humans aren't looking: "All I've got to sleep on is a rag in the corner, you little rat! ... I am not your pet! I'm a cat. You're a mouse. You should be living in a hole. This is my family. ... I can't believe this, I'm arguing with lunch." When an alley cat named Monty (voice of Steve Zahn) discovers the situation, he finds it funny, but a local gangster cat (voice of Chazz Palminteri) says, "That's not funny. That's sick. A cat can't have a rodent for a master. I mean what's the world coming to? It's against the laws of nature." Of course, Snowball eventually comes to Stuart's defense ("He's not just a mouse. He's -- he's -- he's family!") and Stuart gives voice to the obvious moral lesson that you don't have to "look alike" in order to be a family. But while the mice and the cats can talk to each other (there is even a subplot in which Chazz's cat coerces two mice to pose as Stuart's parents), it seems the humans can only talk to the mice -- whenever Snowball is in the shot with the other Littles, he just meows. So theirs is a "family" with some obvious stratification -- Snowball can never be "family" to the humans the way that Stuart is.

There are no other animals in that film, except for an off-screen dog that barks menacingly at one of the gangster cats. But Stuart Little 2 (2002) adds a couple of birds to the mix, namely a canary (voice of Melanie Griffith) who befriends Stuart and the falcon (voice of James Woods) that she is forced to work and thieve for. The falcon, of course, is a carnivore; at one point he tells the canary, "Never make a friend I can eat," and he tells her "the mouse is lunch" if she doesn't do what he tells her to do. The canary's position is a little more ambivalent; like the mice, she wears some clothing and she can talk to the humans, however when she appears to have abandoned the Littles, Snowball tells Stuart, "Do yourself a favour, buy a parakeet and forget her"; so she may straddle that thin line between friend and pet. As for Snowball, Stuart tells the canary not to worry about him because "he wouldn't hurt a fly," and the film then cuts to a shot of Snowball catching and swallowing a fly (and belching, I think -- his next line is "Boy, these flies really come back outta you," or something to that effect); he also spends much of the film asking if anyone is going to serve him tuna or herring, and the film ends with Mrs. Little calling to him and saying, "Snow, want some tuna when we get home?" and him saying, "Tuna? I love these people!" So his carnivorous tendencies are present and accounted for; he just doesn't eat mice or canaries -- or at least, he doesn't eat Stuart.

And then there's Monty, who we first see being thrown out of a Chinese restaurant (and the guy who throws him out actually shouts "You come here again and..." as though he thinks the cat will understand him, though I believe his words are subtitled -- does the cat speak Chinese? do the Chinese know how to talk to cats?). When Snowball and Stuart meet Monty again, Monty asks Snowball, "Are you two still friends, or can I eat him?" Of course, Snowball says they are still friends. And one of the very last scenes has Monty rummaging through a garbage can and complaining, "Can't I get a decent meal in this city?" Suddenly the falcon, who has just been knocked out of the sky by Stuart's toy plane, falls into the garbage can. Monty looks up and says, "Thank you!" So we are left to believe that Monty is going to eat the movie's bad guy -- a perhaps more implicitly violent ending than the first film, in which a bunch of cartoonishly thuggish cats (including Monty) merely got wet.