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Political beasts

Animated films draw hundreds of thousands of children and adults to cinema, but some believe they are ideologically too far left. BY GURO AARDAL HAGEN


It is a lovely sunny day in the farm. Expensive grasses on sunny meadows, and the farmer, who is otherwise vegan, does his job. As he turns his back, the animal gets up at two, starts talking, and starts setting up the daily barn feast.

The pig plays drums, bikkja banjo and the rooster are conferences. Milk and honey flow from the tapping tower. The Wild Barn Party premieres January 12, as this year's first full-length animated film. Like many of its predecessors, this one is also not devoid of an underlying message.

- Animated films have always had one

ideological function. Often, nature is presented as harmonious and the family as an ideal, says Gunnar Iversen, professor of film science at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).

Last year, the animated film Ice Age 2 was set

almost 900.000 people, thus topping the list of 2006's most watched cinema films in Norway. At the turn of the year, the penguin party Happy Feet was number two, while Over the Hedge, a film based on the cartoon of the same name, was in 15th place among the most watched. 2007 will also be a cinema year with breadth in the animation genre. Later in January comes The Ugly Duckling, in February Elias and the Royal Ship, in July comes The Simpsons Movie and in August Shrek 3 – to name a few.

All are built over the same read, with madness, humor, warmth and something curious or sad that threatens harmony. The films hit both adults and children, and with a politically correct message on the purchase, they often become cashier successes.

In Over the Hedge it is proclaimed that one should eat to live, not live to eat. In Happy Feet, predatory fishing and other man-made environmental

problems the underlying. Professor Gunnar Iversen sees such messages as a bonus to the entertainment aspect.

- An interesting trend is that animated films are now made for both adults and children. And adults are often very happy if a good message is woven into the children. There are harmless ideologies that are presented, if it were not for that, the films would not have reached the family market, he says.

Leftist propaganda

The conservative radio host and film critic Michael Medved is not of the same opinion as Professor Iversen. This fall, he created debate in the United States with his interpretation of Happy Feet. The movie is about the penguins in Antarctica struggling to find food. They all express themselves through song, except for Little Mumle who can't sing. He, on the other hand, is a stepper on the stepping, which gives him a deviant status.

In the blog article "Don't Be Misled by 'Crappy Feet'!" Medved reaches out against what he calls left-wing radical propaganda. "I almost expected an animated Al Gore to appear," he writes of the film, which he believes has led the most dishonest marketing throughout 2006.

He attacks Happy Feet for consistently having a propaganda angle where the penguins biggest headache is humanity stealing their fish and destroying the planet through pollution. "No animation film for children has gone so far in eliciting bad conscience that one belongs to the species homo sapiens," he continues.

According to Medved, the production of penguins also creates pain and danger, fear, discomfort and guilt. And finally: He thinks Happy Feet is anti-religious and a defense of homosexuality.

- Animation films are often characterized by good morale winning. When someone manages to accuse Happy Feet of being a left-wing radical, it is mostly explosive, says Gunnar Strøm, associate professor at Volda University College and founder of the school's animation line.

He says that when Disney's Aladdin arrived in 1992, discussions arose because Muslims were portrayed as enemies. The film was stopped in Indonesia and Malaysia, Muslim countries that usually screen American films.

From caricature to film

The purpose of some of history's first animated films was, according to Gunnar Strøm, just to front a political message. He believes there is a clear parallel to the political caricature.

- In many countries, the first animated films came during the First World War, and they were often an extension of the political cartoons one could find in newspapers and magazines, he says.

Political satire also characterizes Eastern European animation after World War II until the fall of the Iron Curtain.

- This was a great period for animation in Eastern Europe. Among other things, the arms race was a recurring theme, which could be read as criticism of both the West and the homeland. Through animation you got a broader and critical picture of the world.

Power believes it is a trait that is still present in modern animated films.

- This is what most people see in Happy Feet. It's a shame when it is interpreted differently, because this is a film in line with Dickens-based Mickey's Christmas Carol, where Uncle Skrue gets good in the end, he says.

As a counterpart to the heartwarming movies, Ström shows up on TV shows like The Simpsons and South Park.

- Political satire is used to the fullest here. In the South Park movie, for example, the filmmakers took the life of Saddam Hussein long before it actually happened. Had anyone said what is said in these films during a debate or through reader posts, there would have been uproar.

Movies from the north

Strøm believes that the Norwegian release Jimmy free and Danish Terkel in a pinch joins the same tradition as South Park.

- The films are a result of what started in 1989 with The Simpsons. The series announced something new, with political comments and social criticism. Terkel and Jimmy are Scandinavian examples of the same direction.

He thinks it would be difficult for Christopher Nielsen to accept the movie about the drug elephant Jimmy if The Simpsons and South Park had not laid the foundation for political animation.

- The film Fritz the Cat from 1968, based on the underground legend Robert Crumb's cartoon character, is an even earlier example of the same audacity that lies in Drop Jimmy free. It was the first animated film with an age limit in the USA, because it focused on sex, drugs and political rebellion, says Strøm.

Although Nielsen's film made its mark on cinema last year, the Flåklypa Grand Prix still stands as the biggest Norwegian animation success.

- It is completely harmless and without any political message. The most award-winning Norwegian animated film, on the other hand, feels a little uncomfortable, says Professor Gunnar Iversen at NTNU.

- When grandmother ironed the king's shirts is a gigantic tribute to ordinary Norwegians

resistance to the Germans under others

World War. In the film, all good Norwegians are and passively resist. It's all very

sugary and idyllic. That all Norwegians fought resistance is a myth, and the film is proof that the further away from the war one comes,

the more nuanced the portrayals become, Iversen says.

Male men, little women

Back to January 2007: The Wild Barn Party, this year's first animated film, is more

ideological rather than political. In particular, the gender ideology is striking. It's director Steve

Oedekerk has not done to familiarize himself with the physiognomy of the cattle stock, he has retaken by creating a universe in which the males (yes, they have jurors) appear to be actionable

protectors, and the females as mute,

helpless and childlike. During the barn party, the turkeys are hung out by the conference male, and the adorable cow who will soon become the hero of the hero, munches on a nasty, fussy girlfriend.

The film does not lack macho attitudes. When Chief Chef Ben is overpowered by wolf villains and dies, son Otis will take over. It's hard for him to disassociate himself from heartbreaking landscape surfing and wild car chases, but of course things are going right.

In a scene where he visits the wolves

headquarters, to be confused like the biblical notion of hell, he takes a peek at them all. Afterwards, he steals a motorcycle and heads home to his birth girlfriend. Happiness becomes complete when a boy is born. He obviously gets the name Ben.

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