The Bird Meme: Day 19

Day 19: Favorite bird in a movie


Well, we know what my favorite movie bird is not: the American Robin that somehow turns up in London to sing for Mary Poppins. Or the Troupial being touted as a Pygmy Nuthatch (!) in Charlie's Angels.

But aside from that, we've got a somewhat limited set of options. Birds are far less common in film than dogs or cats, and when they are used, they're almost always either animated/anthropomorphic characters or heavy-duty Symbols.

Disney has provided plenty of the former: Scuttle, the seagull from The Little Mermaid; Iago, Jafar's parrot sidekick in Aladdin; Flit, the hummingbird from Pocahontas; Zazu, King Mufasa's hornbill majordomo in The Lion King; the quartet of suspiciously Liverpudlian vultures from The Jungle Book; the quintet of disturbingly racist crows fluttering through Dumbo; the corps de ballet of ostriches (all males in drag, judging by their combination of plumage and costuming) in the "Dance of the Hours" segment of Fantasia; various flamingos and dodos from Alice in Wonderland; and of course the dozens of nameless songbirds flitting around assisting various princesses with household chores. A lot of of these birds are played for laughs, as evidenced by the actors voicing them (Buddy Hackett, Gilbert Gottfried, Rowan Atkinson, etc.), and they don't create a particularly positive response in a birder (or at least in this birder). If we include Pixar films, we must also consider Kevin, the flightless "snipe" in Up and the flock of manic seagulls screaming "MINE!" in Finding Nemo, but again, I'm not really grabbed by these characters, which are essentially plot devices with feathers.

And speaking of plot devices with feathers, let's consider the Eagles of Middle-Earth. These gigantic birds in the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit movies are also animated CGI creations, but I'm putting them in the Heavy-Duty Symbols category thanks to the brightly-glowing sign reading DEUS EX MACHINA that flashes on screen with them whenever they appear. 

Still, they're not as exasperating as the mysterious red bird (a dyed canary?) that turns up in the Demi Moore version of The Scarlet Letter. The bird is the least of the many strikes against this 1995 film, which was saved from multiple Golden Raspberry awards only by the presence of Showgirls on the same ballot. As best I can tell, the red bird is intended to symbolize Hester's temptation, but it may actually serve as a literal physical vessel for the Devil to use while hanging around colonial Massachusetts. It's a further condemnation of the film that I simply can't tell. A Christmas Story features both a turkey and a Peking duck, but they appear not as actual fowl, but as comestibles, the former symbolizing the ordinary traditions of Christmas and the latter representing (in yet another disturbingly racist way) the unusual nature of this particular Christmas season. And there are birds aplenty in Alan Parker's Birdy, though the majority of the attention is given to Nicholas Cage (in an early and highly effective performance) and Matthew Modine; most of the avian actors, however, are there to symbolize the difficulties Modine's character faces in trying to relate to human beings. Again, it's kind of hard to find most of these appealing on an avian level.

Perhaps strangely, I'm not that big a fan of movies that are actually about birds. I still haven't seen The Big Year, though I enjoyed Mark Obmascik's book enormously, and Fly Away Home has also remained unviewed even after the Operation Migration ultralight (and its accompanying squadron of geese) paid an unexpected visit to Woodberry's campus some years back. Heck, I haven't even seen Black Swan, though I'm given to understand that members of genus Cygnus play a fairly minor role. The only avian-based movie I can think of where I really enjoyed the birds was Hitchcock's The Birds, but that's an ensemble performance, so it's hard for me to single out one bird as my favorite.

No, the more I think about it, the more I think my favorite movie birds all appear in one of my favorite movies: Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

After all, we get a spirited debate about how swallows maintain airspeed velocity, a brief cameo from a pigeon being used by Sir Bedivere to test theories about coconut dispersal, and best of all, a supremely dignified domestic white duck rendering judgment on a thorny legal issue. Isn't that really how birds ought to be used in Hollywood? To advance our understanding of science and law? I certainly believe so.

duck arthur.pngOf course, I haven't seen Birdemic yet. If a viewing of this semi-legendary film should ever change my opinion, you'll be the first to know.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on October 3, 2017 5:27 PM.

The Bird Meme: Day 18 was the previous entry in this blog.

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