Last week, Anna Mik (‘Artes Liberales,’ University of Warsaw) and I had the pleasure of talking about Walt Disney’s 1951 adaptation with Daniel Lammin on his Ink and Paint podcast, which journeys through the classics of Disney Animation. Daniel is a fount of knowledge about all things Disney, and asked all sorts of questions to us about Alice–the Lewis Carroll original, and our ideas about it and the film.
Being mythically oriented, we talked a bit about the Our Mythical Childhood project and our findings there, and about our different interests in the symbolism and contexts of Alice: film and original story. We had a great time, and could happily have chatted for even longer (the podcast is a whopping 1 hour 37 minutes). Like Alice, we lost sense of time, following the white rabbit down the rabbit hole of meaning, nonsense, and exploration. . .
Beached Az is an Australian series of short animations about a New Zealand whale who gets stuck on a small tropical island and becomes friends with a local seagull.
It has simple designs, and simple dialogue: sample:
Whale: “Oh No! I’m beached! I’m beached as!”
Seagull: “What are you doing, bro?”
Whale: “Dude, I’m beached as!”
Beached Az, series 1, episode 1.
It’s very funny, most of its humour coming from word play, repetition, and those accents. Whale and Seagull speak in the Australian approximation of a New Zealand accent–the a sounds like an e, i sounds like a u, the o sounds like oi, es sound like is, and so on. Seagull offers Whale a chup (a chip); Whale says ‘no I only eat plenkton (plankton).’ Their talk, too, is peppered with Kiwi slang–they often refer to each other as ‘bro;’ and say ‘sweet as,’ instead of awesome. Australians love making fun of how Kiwis speak, and this show offers a concentrated dose of friendly trans-Tasman mockery.
And it’s a sweet little series–of harmless and pointless conversations, with the occasional moment of depth and seriousness. Which brings us to Poseidon.
I just kind of Nep-tuned you out…
In the opening to the third series, Whale and Seagull have the opportunity to be really serious, when they meet Poseidon, the god of the sea. Poseidon’s despondent because of the pollution and rubbish in the sea. Whale and Seagull try to change the subject and cheer up the gloomy god, but Poseidon’s not having it.
He takes them on a journey into the future, to show them what the oceans will become–dirty, built up, and full of robots. Indeed Seagull and Whale become cyborgs (Cygull and Whaleborg), but if Poseidon is making a point, it’s lost to the duo, who delightedly play with their robot powers, until the god loses his temper and shouts:
Poseidon: Yes I suppose your particuar situation has possibly improved, but we can’t allow ourselves to be befuddled by technology while nature is DYING!
Poseidon takes them back to the present, and tries again:
Whale/Seagull: Aww, Poseidon!
Poseidon: I was showing you the future to show you how bad it gets.
Whale: If you’re God of the Oceans, why don’t you just change it then. You’re powerful as.
Poseidon: It doesn’t work like that. I can’t affect humans’ free will. They must realise they’re not separate from nature, you’re part of nature–
Seagull: Aw, sorry, I wasn’t listening there. I just kind of Nep-tuned you out.
The environmental dilemma in a nutshell–a desperate nature god, ignored by mates who just want to chat and muck about. But of course the point is made–if humans don’t do something about our relationship with the world, we too are in big trouble.
Consulting the Urban Dictionary on the term ‘beached az,’ I find that the phrase has entered the vernacular–to be ‘beached as,’ is not at all like anything ‘sweet as.’ It’s to be in deep trouble–to be beached, like the whales that sometimes wash up on New Zealand shores–to be out of one’s depth, and up a creek without a paddle. Choose your simile or metaphor: the point makes itself.
Beached Az, meantime, is doing its bit to help the world–through sly humour and using Poseidon as a hapless straight-man, a foil to the chat of Seagull and Whale. Perhaps if humans are paying attention (and not Nep-tuning things out), some of the message will get through.
I’ve seen quite a few Peppa Pig episodes in company with my niece and nephews who used to be extremely into the show. They’re moving on, but that doesn’t mean it’s over for me, especially not when a delightful clip like this one comes my way (thanks to Anne Rogerson!)
Peppa and George are hanging out with Grandpa Pig, when Granny Pig comes home from role-playing as Romans with her friends. Plonking a pair of spare centurion helmets on the kids’ heads, she teaches them how to march around crying ‘veni vidi vici,’ and helps them make a mosaic in a mud-puddle. When George doesn’t want to have a bath to get the mud off him, Granny Pig reminds him that the Romans loved baths. Eventually it’s time to go home. ‘Tempus fugit,’ they say, and Grandpa Pig gives the kids crowns of leaves to signify that they’re emperors. ‘veni vidi vici,’ says George, and everyone rolls around laughing.
Peppa and George love being Romans.
Everybody loves being Romans.
Role-playing grannies, centurious, emperors, tempus fugit, veni vidi vici, mosaics, baths, helmets and laurel wreaths. What more does one need to know about being a Roman, especially from Peppa Pig? I can’t think of more. This is a great little introduction to the ancient world–gently done, and in such a way as to lead kids to want to know more.
Bluey is a six year old Blue Heeler puppy. She lives in a house on a hill in Brisbane with her four year old sister, Bingo, their mum, Chilli, and dad, Bandit. Together, they play and sing, dance and do dishes, and work their way cheerfully and creatively through life.
Bluey, the show that bears her name, is a charming animated show, made by Ludo Studio. My four year old nephew, Harry, is one of the millions of children who love the show. He quotes it frequently. He can do the floss dance like Bluey and Bingo, and has tried to show me how to do it. Like their granny, I’ve had to have a few goes before getting it right.
It’s a terrific show. Each 7-minute episode takes a warm but realistic approach to the fun and challenges of being a kid, and also of being around kids. I’m glad that my nephew likes it. He pretends to give people injections, after watching Bluey and Bingo play ‘hospital’ with their dad, saying ‘Sting!! Brave boy.’ His siblings talk about ‘dollarbucks’ and ‘dollarydoos’ when pretending to play shop. And so on.
Nothing much Classical there, though the puppies have a singing teacher called Calypso, and Bandit does call himself ‘Telemachus’ when he plays a patient in the hospital episode. I wrote to the creator, Joe Brum, asking him where that reference came from–he replied it came from his own childhood, watching Ulysses 31. Cultural moments like that pop up from time to time, but the main emphasis is on the here and now. Rather than being mythical or fairytale figures, the children play at being spies, and cooks, nurses, doctors, fruitbats and naughty grannies. And the setting is firmly Australian–a great pleasure of the show is seeing a lush Queensland landscape and wildlife beautifully animated.
Every now and then, the show rises above the every day, reflecting on what it means to be alive. On the weekend, Harry and I watched Beach (episode 26) : in which the family goes to the beach, and Bluey learns the pleasure of going for a walk by herself. And I like to think that this is one of the episodes in which the Classical plays a small role.
While Chilli goes for a walk, Bandit watches Bluey and Bingo, playing in the sand, bury Bluey’s legs. They make a sandcastle in the shape of a mermaid’s tail. Bluey finds a shell in which she can hear the sound of the ocean and wants to show her mother. Bingo pretends to be King Neptune, allowing mermaid-Bluey to have the use of her legs ‘for a day,’ and to follow her mother down the beach.
Bluey follows her mother’s footprints down the beach, a long way for a little dog. She meets a surfer, who reminds her that mermaids only have legs for one day; a flock of seagulls she dispatches with a sharp little bark. She bravely edges around a pelican sitting in her way, and is chased by a group of soldier crabs, who take up residence in a tumbling sand-castle. Even a blue jellyfish is no obstacle for brave Bluey, who pokes it with a stick, then jumps over it to join her mum.
It’s an epic journey: a long way for a little dog with little legs. In that walk down the beach, Bluey faces obstacles and sticks it out. Much of epic involves overcoming challenges, but also having a vision and seeing it through. Like Odysseus finding his Penelope, Bluey chases after her mum and is rewarded by her admiration as they share their memories of the different things they’ve seen.
What is so lovely about Bluey is its understanding of the world’s bigness and smallness, especially in relation to children’s experiences. A walk along the beach could be a small thing, but for Bluey it’s a big adventure, in which she learns the joy of striking out alone, and also the pleasure of coming home in her mum’s company. And in this episode, as in so many of them, the creators play it just right, balancing myth, play, and real experiences in a way that does Bluey’s journey justice.
Sonya, Hanna, and Anna at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich
Liz shows where in the world are Our Mythical scholars
The Deep, Liz, and an underwater Minotaur
Hanna and Soviet animation
Anna and Silly Symphonies’ Neptune
Anna and some interesting mermaids
Sonya, Liz and Anna at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich
Sonya and the Panoply Project
Sonya Nevin showed how she and Steve Simons move myth in their Panoply animations of Greek vases. We were privileged to see their animation of the Sappho Vase for the National Museum of Poland.
Anna Mik showed us how Walt Disney played with mermaid myths in the 1933 Silly Symphony cartoon, King Neptune. You can read her Our Mythical Childhood survey entry on King Neptune here.
Hanna Paulouskaya showed us how Soviet animators such as Aleksandra Shezhko-Blotskaya used classical myth to move around the land as part of a national narrative.
And I talked about how the Australian animation, The Deep, moves myth underwater, using classical myths to appeal to an international audience.
Questions and discussion took us around the world, showing once again how myth functions both locally and universally, and to what ends We talked about the rights of the mermaid, about what a siren really looks like, and what they really get up to. We talked about how myth is put to use, encouraging Soviet schoolchildren to travel, for instance, or connecting Australian viewers to a wider world of mystery and story. Sonya showed us how children move myth to their own ends, through the activities she and Steve give them–making their own shields and vases, for instance, and incorporating them in their own stories and mythology.
The conference in general was emotionally moving, looking at how children move (or are forced to move) around the world, and also about how children’s culture moves through social changes, and how children move culture on, transforming and reshaping adult ideas for new generations. Putting animation and mythology into these contexts, it is clear that mythology moves as culture moves, offering useful ways to frame children’s experiences and the way that reception is framed in its turn.