Monday, February 21, 2005

HEFFALUMPS: THE HIDDEN THREAT


Emma, Nonie and I braved the downpour this morning, enjoyed a cheap and delicious breakfast at our new Sunday morning haunt, Hamburger Central, at the corner of California and Central in beautiful downtown Glendale, and took in an 11:10 a.m. screening of the season's most anticipated feature (at least by two-thirds of our party), Pooh's Heffalump Movie. We smuggled in popcorn, juice, and (for Dad) a couple of cans of Wild Cherry Diet Pepsi, and settled in just as the previews began, Emma (the big girl) in a seat of her own, Nonie turning my crossed leg into a literal lap of luxury from which she happily munched and laughed for 68 straight minutes. These two make my dreams come true every time I take them to the movies. They're so attentive, excited and joyful about the whole experience, and today's matinee was no exception-- Nonie lost herself in delighted laughter over one triumphant moment near the end, hiccupping ha-has well past the point where the rest of the kid-packed auditorium had gotten over it all and returned to relative silence. Did she ever get the looks, mostly from amused parents, to which she remained blissfully oblivious, happily lost in the Hundred-Acre Wood.

Pooh's Heffalump Movie is better than Piglet's Big Movie, and a damn sight better than The Tigger Movie, both visually and as storytelling-- not once did I feel the seductive pull of the Sandman luring me away from consciousness toward a hopefully Pooh-less place. In fact, it was a much more engaging movie than I would have ever expected. And it was amusing to see the conventions of sophisticated suspense softened and put to relatively clever use as the identity of the horrific Heffalump is teased at and finally revealed-- Emma sat glued to her seat and reacted to each rustling bush and barely glimpsed shadow as if she were her old Dad waiting for the elevator doors to open and allow "Bobbie" to take his/her slow-motion hacks at an unsuspecting Angie Dickinson.

The movie takes the cues for its visual palette from the lavender hue of the adorable Heffalump himself, and it almost goes too far in this direction in the first 10 minutes-- Pooh's nightgown is lavender, all the wood seen in this forest-- planks and trees-- seem to lean away from a natural brown toward a lavender pastel, and even Tigger's nose seems to have a lavender tinge. I found myself overcome with the urge to grab the remote and try to tweak the image slightly. Things do tend to balance out back to the traditional and familiar color schemes of the Disney-fied Pooh after a while. But by then it's too late. The movie has become about something more than just an overzealous hue. The makers of Pooh's Heffalump Movie have tipped their hand, practically daring cultural watchdogs like Focus on the Family's James Dobson and other card-carrying members of what the think tank Political Research Associates have termed "the theocratic right" to come down on this relatively thoughtful children's movie like the vice squad shutting down a pajama party at Tinky Winky's purple pad.

You see, Pooh's Heffalump Movie is the story of a group of friends forced to confront their preconceptions and prejudices regarding a much-speculated-upon unseen creature and in doing so realize that said monstrous beast is not monstrous at all but instead, in all the ways that count, very much like themselves. The heffalump turns out to be a very plush-toy-ready version of an elephant, but Pooh and company have plenty of strange ideas about what he/she/it looks like before meeting he/she//it that underline the creature's status as a metaphor for social and ethnic minority-- Tigger's insistence that the heffalump sports a tail with vicious spikes on it sounds very much like the claims of those who once perpetuated (and still do) the myth of Jews as horned devils. In this way the movie can be seen as a general plea for tolerance, a kid-friendly lesson in the pitfalls of bigotry.

But that preference for lavender, whether intentional or not, ought to set a lot of bells ringing if anyone is paying attention in Dobson's office. After all, as I wrote in a comment on Loxjet's Wailing and Gnashing blog this afternoon, we've been witness to a little lesson recently about what the theocratic right, and Dobson in particular, really seems to think of tolerance. Whether it's Arthur's pal Buster traveling around the world espousing tolerance and understanding of those who are different than we are on the PBS Kids show Postcards from Buster, or Spongebob Squarepants living his off-kilter life in a pineapple under the sea, Dobson and like-minded social and spiritual tyrants just want you to know that whenever the word or the concept of "tolerance" shows up in this context, it's a secular humanist buzzword that, loosely translated, means acceptance of gays and, naturally, the gay lifestyle.

And when Pooh's Heffalump Movie, like that violet-hued purse-wielder Tinky Winky, traffics in a color as coded as lavender and starts talking about how we should try to understand one another and not succumb to our prejudices and fears, why, that's practically the dogma of the decadent laid out in easy-to-swallow morsels for our young and innocent to swallow, and be swallowed by. And that's why these shows and films are bad, bad, bad. Not only are gays and the gay lifestyle to be refuted as ungodly, so too now must the idea of anyone else treating them with love and compassion, like any other human being, for fear of being seen as tacitly promoting a heretical and damnable sexual orientation. It's enough to make one's head spin in delicious, yet ultimately depressing anticipation of Dobson discovering and decoding Heffalump's hidden, evil agenda.

Myself, I'm kinda hoping Emma and Nonie swallow those particular morsels. I'll leave Dobson to suss out to the eternal consequences while we get ready to see Robots, which undoubtedly has some foreboding subtext that I'll have to consider before allowing my little impressionables to see it. Perhaps there'll be the wanton mixing of 30-weight and 40-weight amongst the film's mechanical characters in some sleazy oil bar about which to fret and gnash my teeth. And that densely constructed set design on display in the Robots trailer ought to be fertile soil ready for plowing by the repressed loons who have tired of ranting about the phallic columns of Neptune's palace in the ad art for The Little Mermaid. What fun to have a whole new cityscape potentially crammed with hidden sexual imagery to decode, rail against and, of course, fantasize about! I'll bet this is why Dobson thinks God made the movies.

5 comments:

Murray said...

Amen to taking the young'uns to the movie. I absolutely love taking the granddaughters to any movie suitable for their young eyes. Even if I don't get the movie, I get such a joy watching them have fun. I really enjoyed your account of taking Emma and Noni to "Heffalumps".

Anonymous said...

Onward, tolerant soldiers! What an enjoyable account indeed of going to the movies with your daughters...and an intriguing discussion of the whole lavender cartoon hubbub. On another note, Pattie and I suffered through "Saw" yesterday at last; though we both found little to admire in the movie, except for Shawnee Smith's stunning performance. Glad I saw that, at least! Bruce

stooge1970 said...

You saw Saw? Boy, I'd sure like to see Saw! Wait, I did seesaw when I was little. No, wait, I meant I saw Saw at the theaters. Now, wait a minute. I saw Saul at the theaters seeing Saw. That's it. Saul saw Saw, and I saw Saul seeing Saw. Straight up.

Anonymous said...

Sufferin' succotash, I struggled not to say I saw "Saw," but scarcely could escape saying I saw Shawnee Smith in "Saw," since she was seen in it. B.

Thom McGregor said...

Enough about Saw! This space is for Heffalumps! Very well said, Dennis C. Better said than similar commentaries I've read in newspapers and magazines. If there's one thing I cannot tolerate, it's intolerance. Well, you know. And being a parent of young kids, I still don't understand the furious hatred behind those who say they are protecting the innocence of youth but are actually teaching kids the elements of hatred of anything different than yourself. That, to me, is truly pure evil.