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As Warner Bros. executives, box-office watchers and Wall Street analysts search for clues as to why Happy Feet Two is stumbling, perhaps they should check its progressive politics.
Like its predecessor in 2006, the current iteration of the franchise – though its status as such is now in doubt – has penguins and other cold-weather creatures not only entertaining children but also conveying environmental messages to them. Where the two movies are dissimilar, though, is that the first was a hit and the second one is not. Happy Feet earned $42 million its opening weekend in 2006 while Happy Feet Two, which opened Nov. 18, took 10 days to surpass that mark.
Some are speculating that global warming, which both movies portray as a big problem for penguins and the rest of the planet, doesn’t resonate with audiences nearly as much as it did five years ago, especially with the 40 percent of American adults who call themselves “conservative.” Amid a couple of scandals that revealed shenanigans between climate scientists, the percent of American adults who believe the planet is getting hotter due to human activity has fallen to 47, and it’s much less among conservatives.
Director George Miller acknowledged five years ago that he reworked the script for the first Happy Feet to amplify the environmental themes, and conservatives who weren’t turned off by them the first time around expected similar messages in the sequel. Some, though, complain that Happy Feet Two ramped up the liberalism to the point of propaganda, and these disenchanted right wingers are getting the word out to like-minded moviegoers.
Kyle Smith at the NY Post, for example, says he loved the first Happy Feet but he wrote that the sequel promotes collectivism, feminism, international bailouts, vegetarianism, same-sex marriage, the United Nations and even Occupy Wall Street, which he acknowledges didn’t exist during the moviemaking process.
“Well played, lefties: This is Kiddie Karl Marx,” Smith writes of Happy Feet Two.
There’s about 123 million adult conservatives in the U.S., so if Hollywood insists on inserting liberal messages in its family fare, it risks alienating a huge chunk of its potential audience. And many conservatives are accusing Hollywood of doing just that.
After Pixar head honcho John Lasseter revealed ahead of the opening of Cars 2 that the oil industry would be the “uber bad guy,” a blogger at LonelyConservative.com wrote this: “We conservatives and believers in free markets are accused of being paranoid when we say the Hollywood industry is trying to indoctrinate our children with left-wing propaganda. But now movie directors and producers are coming out and admitting what they’re doing. I’m just glad I found this out before I allowed my kids to persuade me to take them to see the movie Cars 2.”
Cars 2 this year, by the way, took in 22 percent less at the domestic box office than its predecessor did in 2006.
“Films geared toward children contain left-leaning perspectives on the environment, big business and morality,” says Stephen Winzenburg, communications professor at Grand View College in Iowa and author of TV’s Greatest Sitcoms. “Tolerance of others is taught as the highest form of morality, while absolute right and wrong is ignored.”
The U.S. military and Christianity are also favorite targets for progressives who make family movies, wrote Christian Toto at Human Events, citing, among others, DreamWorks Animation’s Monsters vs. Aliens and its character dubbed Gen. W.R. Monger.
“The general and his military pals cruelly hold the titular monsters in prison until they’re needed to save the day,” Toto wrote. “All the film needs is to name-drop Gitmo and the effect would be complete.”
When it comes to proof of liberal propaganda in family films, though, many conservatives list as Exhibit A an unsuccessful, 2-year-old Lionsgate release called Battle for Terra.
“The key villain is – what else? – a very American looking general who quotes from the Bible,” Toto writes.
“Children should be off base for the industry’s thought police,” he says. “No such luck.”
Conservatives, of course, aren’t in lockstep in regard to the politics of children’s movies. Case in point is Disney’s The Muppets, which makes oilman Tex Richman the bad guy and nearly earned back its $45 million production budget in its first week.
“If any kiddie franchise can yank audiences back in time, it’s the new, improved Muppets,” writes Toto. On the other hand, Iris Somberg of the conservative watchdog group Newsbusters, writes: “Yes, it’s a Muppet movie — farcical and silly. But how sadly predictable that the villain is the perennial bogeyman of liberal environmentalists, and how sadly telling that the writers politicized a children’s movie. Again.”
Then again, perhaps conservatives are just overreacting, says John Pitney, professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College, and it’s not filmmakers who are pushing their agenda on kids but film watchers who are perceiving messages based on their own political biases.
Disney’s Mulan, for example, is a “progressive story about gender roles,” says Pitney, though it’s also “a conservative parable about terrorism. After all, Mulan doesn’t reason with the Huns – she kills them.”
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