Winter Wonderland Returns

After near-record snowfall, Meridian Parks & Rec presents animated winter wonderland film "Happy Feet" to open 2021 Outdoor Movie Nights at Lomax Amphitheater Jan. 16

MERIDIAN – Opening with a joy-filled, winter-themed family film, Meridian Parks & Recreation announced its 2021 monthly slate for the already popular free Outdoor Movie Night at the John A. Lomax Amphitheater in Meridian Park.

In the after-glow of this week's near record snowfall across Bosque County, the Parks & Rec will present January's WINTER WONDERLAND feature – the 2006 feel-good animated film “Happy Feet” – on Saturday, Jan. 16 at 6 p.m. The characters are fun, the Antarctic landscapes mesmerizing, the storyline sweet, and the music is dazzling. The film delivers everything from funk to rock to disco with the late pop star Prince writing an original song for the movie, "The Song of the Heart."

Those planning to attend are encouraged to bring their favorite camp chair or stadium seat as well as blankets to add comfort to the outdoor amphitheater viewing experience. The evening will begin at 5:30 p.m. with themed music played on the new Park & Rec outdoor sound system, while free hot dogs and popcorn will be available while supplies last.

The movie presentation will begin at 6 p.m. with classic Looney Tune cartoon short, followed by previews of upcoming films. The feature presentation will begin at approximately 6:30 p.m.

Weather forecasts predict Saturday will be sunny and clear with a high of 62 degrees, dropping into the mid-40s after sunset. While that represents ideal conditions for an outdoor movie this time of year, the Parks & Rec maintains backup plans to move the monthly movie night into the Meridian Civic Center, just across River Street, in case of inclement weather.

On a trial basis to gauge local interest, the Parks & Rec test-drove the outdoor movie nights in late 2020, beginning with the November presentation of the Howard Hawk classic western "Red River" starring the legendary John Wayne, selected for its fictional depiction of the Chisholm Trail cattle drives and mention of driving cattle through Meridian in the film. Still using a collection of borrowed sound equipment and projecting in the DVD format, the Parks & Rec presented the modern holiday classic "The Polar Express" Dec. 12 to an enthusiastic family crowd of more than 60 despite near freezing temperatures.

“We were thrilled by the attendance for our Christmas Outdoor Movie Night,” Parks & Rec Activities and Events Director Brett Voss said. “Now, we are excited to build on that interest as we make it a regular expected and anticipated monthly event in 2021.”

Taking the outdoor movie experience to the next level this Saturday, the Parks & Rec will open the 2021 schedule by presenting the film in high-definition Blu-Ray format while breaking out the new cinema-quality sound system. In the process, the Parks & Rec has announced a slate of diverse films with designated themes for the next 12 months and hope to add themed-related events tied to the movie nights in the near future. (See the complete 2021 lineup with accompanying movie trailers below)

Certainly, the “Winter Wonderland” theme for this month seems fitting following Sunday’s near-record snowfall throughout the Heart of Texas region and beyond. And without a doubt, “Happy Feet” provides an uplifting message for 2021.

Being different from the crowd and being rejected because of it shapes you -- sometimes it will break you, but sometimes it will make you stronger. Mumbles is different from his Emperor Penguin colony members. Instead of a heart song, he has happy feet.

In the 2006 animated movie directed, produced and co-written by George Miller, the audience follows outcast Mumbles in a series of adventures, which ultimately leads to his colony being saved. “Happy Feet” is a highly entertaining blend of remarkable action and adorable protagonists, electrified by a eclectic soundtrack filled with iconic songs.

Not only do his happy feet distinguish him from other Emperor penguins, Mumbles stands out with his blue eyes and a coat that remains fluffy long after his age mates have their adult coats. He also has a faded dark spot directly under his neck in the shape of a bow tie, added to make Mumble's appearance more like a white tuxedo – both to pay tribute to legendary song and dance man Fred Astaire and a play on "penguin suit," a slang term for a black tuxedo.

Another reference to Fred Astaire is the three black spots over his ankle area when he is dancing – symbolizing Astaire’s spats in his early movies.

Produced at the Sydney-based visual effects and animation studio Animal Logic for Warner Brothers, Village Roadshow Pictures and Kingdom Feature Productions, the film’s amazing cast of stars include voices from Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, Brittany Murphy, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Hugo Weaving and E.G Daly, who all provide vocals for loads of catchy songs to get your happy feet moving.

The movie was fittingly but sadly dedicated to Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin, the voice of an Australian albatross, and as the elephant seal’s voice. Irwin was an Australian zookeeper, television personality, wildlife expert, environmentalist, and conservationist who achieved worldwide fame from the television series The Crocodile Hunter (1996–2007), an internationally broadcast wildlife documentary series that he co-hosted with his wife Terri. Irwin died on Sept. 4, 2006 after being pierced in the chest by a stingray barb while filming in Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

In this video clip, director George Miller pays tribute to Irwin and shows the scenes. The blue whale scene was not included in the original theatrical release, but was added to the DVD release.

Initially, Prince refused to allow the use of his song, "Kiss," for the film. However, after seeing footage of the film, he not only changed his mind and allowed the song to be used, but also wrote the movie’s final song "The Song of the Heart.” The song won his only Golden Globe Award, and he received a Grammy nomination for it as well.

With all singing, dancing and being happy, the movie's messages of integrity, social acceptance, and embracing one’s own uniqueness are strong themes. Mumbles’ Adelie penguin amigos, with whom he shares many adventures, are hilarious posturing machismos – taunting and daring with exceptional “joie de vivre” – all about having fun and “chica chica boom boom boom.”

As different as they are from Emperor Penguins, they truly accept Mumbles for who he is, and value his unique talent for what it is. Even though baby Mumbles explains that dancing is like singing with your body, his father Memphis says “I wouldn't do that around folks, Son. It... it just ain't penguin, okay?”

In a massive flash mob scene, youthful penguins dance in unison, finally accepting the Mumbles’ special gift. As does the audience, they also have come to know Mumbles for the heroic, hardy fella he is, from scenes of him fighting off Skua birds, taunting a Leopard seal, using icebergs as rollercoaster rides. For the stuffy colony elders, though, the mob dance is the final straw. They see the dance as youthful dissent and a threat to the colony’s homogeneity. “Dissent leads to division leads to destruction,” the elders say.

The elders also see in Mumbles the cause of the fish scarcity and they cast him out. His father Memphis sadly agrees with them and urges Mumbles to “stop with the freakiness of the feet.”  Mother Norma Jean and girlfriend Gloria defend Mumbles, but to no avail.

The movie also deals with environmental themes related to humans intruding on Antarctica’s vulnerable ecosystems.  Mumbles and his Adelie amigos suspect the truth of the fish scarcity lies outside the colony “with the aliens” and go on a quest to prove their suspicions.

After saving guru Lovelace from Orcas, Mumbles chases an industrial fishing boat alone, ending up dejected and depressed in an Australian zoo. But finally, a little girl awakens his stupor with rhythmic tapping on the enclosure’s glass, and Mumbles becomes a celebrity, dancing his way to fame and ultimately the freedom to return home.

On his return to the colony, the dancing penguins spur popularity around the globe, triggering the banning of all fishing around the continent Antarctica. The movie’s ultimate message is translated by the Beatles song, beautifully sung by K.D. Lang “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”

“Happy Feet” became the third highest grossing animated film of 2006 in the U.S., behind “Cars” and “Ice Age: The Meltdown.” Generally receiving positive reviews from critics, “Happy Feet” received the inaugural BAFTA award for Best Animated Film, and also became only the fourth non-Disney or Pixar film to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

2021 OUTDOOR MOVIE NIGHTS at the JOHN A. LOMAX AMPHITHEATER

January 16 – WINTER WONDERLAND: Happy Feet (2006)

February 13 –LOVER’S LANE FOR VALENTINES: La La Land (2016)

March 13 – STAMPEDE INTO SPRING: Spirit - Stallion of the Cimarron

April 10 – THE BEST THERE EVER WAS: The Natural (1984)

May 15 – SPLISH, SPLASH, HAVING A BLAST: The Little Mermaid (1989)

June 12 – HERE’S LOOKING AT YOU, KID! Casablanca (1942)

July 10 – LOYAL FRIEND TO THE END: Iron Giant (1999)

August 14 – GENESIS OF GRIDIRON GLORY: Leatherheads (2008)

September 11 – STILL THE FAIREST OF THEM ALL: Snow White (1937)

October 16 – THE DUKE SCHOOLS GREENHORNS: The Cowboys (1971)

November 13 – TOW-TALLY AWESOME: Cars (2006)

December 11 – YOU BETTER WATCH OUT…FOR THE MEAN ONE! How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS & courtesy of SWANK MOTION PICTURES, INC.

©2021 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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