Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.
1 Peter 4:10
I love it when a film exceeds my expectations, as in the case of George Miller’s exquisitely animated feature set in Antarctica. Led on by the title and the advertising, I’d expected a light-hearted children’s musical. Instead, I found another parable as insightful as the director’s two Babe films, a parable of love, gifts, intolerance, friendship, courage, and more. This is another so-called “children’s film” that adults should see, with or without a child—although I should note that the sequence of the sea lion attack is probably too intense for pre-kindergarten children.
The beginning of the film will seem like a revisit to March of the Penguins. There is the mating of the emperor penguins, the hatching of the eggs that are then placed on the feet of the fathers, and the long trek of the females to the sea to obtain food. As she leaves, Norma Jean (Nicole Kidman) entrusts her egg to her mate Memphis (Hugh Jackman). Darkness descends and the males gather together in a vast huddle, each taking his turn on the cold outer rim. During the process, Memphis’s egg rolls onto the ground. It is but a minute before he has regained it, but that apparently is the cause for both the lateness of his child breaking out of its shell the next spring, and his lack of being able to sing. Yes, “sing.” In this fantasy world all emperor penguins sing, each of the young ones needing to discover the “heart song” that will define forever who he or she is.
Poor Mumble (Elijah Wood) can only emit a harsh sound that instantly goes off key, much to the consternation of his father and his just back from the sea mother. The one thing that the young penguin can do, indeed must do, is dance. Mumble is the Fred Astaire of penguin land, but with absolutely no admirers. Try as he might, he can neither sing on key nor keep his feet from dancing. As the weeks go by and the penguins reach the sea, during which they discover a shortage of food and Mumble is attracted to Gloria (Brittany Murphy), Mumble’s presence becomes more intolerable to the head penguin, Noah the Elder (Hugo Weaving).
Banished from the tribe, but vowing to find out the reason for the disappearance of the fish from their feeding ground, Mumble treks off, followed at first by the concerned Gloria. He comes upon some smaller penguins, the Adelie Amigos, whose leader Ramon (Robin Williams) thinks Mumble’s dance moves are great, quickly taking them up himself. Soon Mumble’s friends lead him to Lovelace the Guru (also voiced by Robin Williams) in order to discover the reason for the disappearance of the fish. They eventually find the answer, as well as to what is the strange device—a plastic contrivance for holding a six-pack together—stuck around the Guru’s neck. If only cooperation with humans were as possible as depicted in this film, though the mere fact that the film was made is a sign that something of the sort is, especially as environmentalists continue to get out their message of concern for what we are doing to the planet.
1) Have you been part of a group that would not tolerate any differences? Have you tried hard like Mumble to fit in but couldn’t? How must this feel?
2) What group in American history is Noah the Elder like, even as to the way he talks? Compare the banishing of Mumble to that of Roger Williams or Anne Hutchison.
3) What do you think Mumble’s gift might symbolize? Compare the way dance is depicted in this film with other films—such as Zorba the Greek; Dancing at Lughnasa; Shall We Dance?; Take the Lead. Another film with some close similarities is Footloose—how are the community leaders and the heroes of the two films similar?
4) How does the film show that it is important to accept our gift and cultivate it, rather than to long for or envy the gift of others?
5) How does Mumble’s gift bring about the salvation of his people? How is his story an embodiment of the teaching in the passage from 1 Peter?