In 2006, a cute little movie came out that spawned a lot of fascination towards penguins. Granted, not many other movies or documentaries featured them singing and/or dancing. Still, Happy Feet went on to have enough success as to earn a sequel.
Since we haven’t watched it in my house in a while, I thought I’d put it on again for my boys, who are now 7 (Cameron) and just about to turn 5 (Tyler).
Right at the beginning of the movie, when little Mumble (the star of the show) is born, he starts to dance. He says he doesn’t know what he’s doing, he just can’t stop. His feet are happy.
This amuses my boys to no end and they get up and start dancing… er… well, what they call dancing. I’m sure my neighbor downstairs didn’t think it was dancing.
The movie very quickly went from happy to sad though, as all the other children began to sing, quite beautifully, while poor Mumble sounded terrible.
As Mumble failed and failed again to sing, his parents had this conversation:
Dad: It just ain’t penguin, ok?
Mom: So what if he’s a little different? I’ve always kinda liked different.
Dad: He’s not different. He’s a regular emperor penguin!
Are you starting to see why this movie is the subject of a blog post on an autism blog?
So while I sat there, watching this movie and thinking how familiar it all sounds and feels, it hit full force as the very last lines were narrated to close out the scene of Mumble’s childhood:
Pay no mind to his dancing heart. The kid saw out his school days at the back of the class, lost in his imaginings.
What fabulous worlds lay out there, far beyond the ice?
Was there any place where one small penguin without a heart song could ever truly belong?
It was at this point when Cameron looked at me, quite seriously, and said “He’s sad because he doesn’t have a heart song, right?”
What do you say to a child when you know that he’s asking because he feels like he is that penguin? Does he feel like that penguin? Has he drawn the same similarities I have? Is he really even following along that closely? Maybe he’s just curious like any other child would be? Am I the one that is putting too much of our life into what I’m seeing in this movie?
This is what I told him:
Cameron, he does have a heart song. Everyone has a heart song. A heart song is something in your heart that only you can hear. Those penguins, when they hear it, they’re able to get it out and express it through singing. That’s how they share their heart song with the world.
But little Mumble, he’s not able to sing. For what ever reason, he just can’t. And so his heart song comes out another way, through his feet. He dances. And he dances better than anyone else.
When you hear the music in the movie, but don’t see anyone around playing the music on guitars or drums, what you’re actually hearing is the heart song in that penguin’s heart. So when he’s dancing, he’s dancing to his heart song.
At this point, Cameron asked about us. “Do people have heart songs?”
Yes, sort of. But it’s not always music. Some people are really good at drawing, cooking, running really fast, playing video games… we all have something that we love to do and we are very good at it.
That’s our heart song.
If someone really loves music and is really good at it, then perhaps they really do have a heart song. But if someone really loves riding horses and is really good at it, then that is their heart song… only it’s not exactly a song.
We all have one. No matter how different we may think we are or how much anyone else thinks we are, we each have a heart song. And it doesn’t matter if it comes out through our feet and people think it’s weird, so long as it comes out.
Because our heart song is important.
Sure enough, later in the movie, as Mumble ventured out and eventually found the aliens (humans), he failed at being able to communicate with them… that is, until he danced.
So I told Cameron “look, he can communicate with them now.”
Cameron looked at me and asked “What does “communicate” mean?”
Again, I explained to him:
Well, communicating is the way in which we tell each other something. Like, me talking to you. But it’s not always talking. Like, when you see a smile, you know someone’s happy. Or you see someone crying, you know they’re sad. They are “communicating” that to you.
In this case, Mumble was talking but those people don’t understand Penguin talk, so they weren’t communicating very well. They didn’t understand each other. But once Mumble started to dance, and the people all gathered round, they were communicating.
At which point Cameron asked: “So his heart song is how he communicates?”
Yes!! He gets it!
And sure enough, as the movie played on and the humans followed him back to the penguin home land and they all started to dance, he started to see how that one little dancing penguin wasn’t so “different” after all. That what made him different made him very special.
If it wasn’t for his dancing, he never would have found the humans, or communicated with them, and they would have ran out of food.
So no matter how different or weird or “not penguin” it is to find your heart song and to let it out, you have to do it anyway.
We all have one. And it’s special.
It needs to be shared with the world.