Sunday, April 7, 2013
Samson and Sally, sometimes given the subtitle "The Song of the Whales," was released in the United States on VHS back in 1990 but has become more obscure over the years and has still not seen any sort of digital release. However, I was able to find the entire film on YouTube and watch it for the first time in about 20 years. Even though I hadn't seen for ages, I had watched it a lot of times back when I was kid, so the entirety of it was instantly familiar. The movie is a coming-of-age story featuring an albino sperm whale named Samson, who becomes best friends with Sally after her pod is slaughtered by whalers. In fact, a lot of whales die in this movie...including in one sequence that's almost a shot-for-shot underwater remake of the legendary scene in Bambi. A lot of children's films from this era were pretty grim, including Disney films like Oliver and Company and the entire filmography of Don Bluth (especially The Land Before Time, which I must have watched 500 times growing up). Something about the 1980s had a lot of animators feeling hopeless about humanity and the world and there's a stark sense of futility that hangs over the second half of Samson and Sally.
Eventually, Samson embarks on a quest to find none other than Moby Dick, who is a mythic figure to the whale community. To find the great white whale, he navigates through numerous man-made hazards like oil spills and barrels of radioactive waste. The environmental message in this film is not subtle - the first oil spill sequence is absolutely harrowing as the whale pod makes a mad dash underneath the sludge, hoping that they can hold their breath long enough to make it. Just after that, the camera pans up and we see just how huge the spill actually is. When Samson finally finds Moby Dick, the movie turns downright dystopian. The ancient whale, now so feeble he can't even catch his own food, lives in a sunken New York City. You gotta give the writers credit for showcasing the potential consequences of global warming decades before that term was so common. It's obvious that Moby Dick isn't going to be any help, so a disillusioned Samson has to return to Sally and the rest of his pod and then just get by as best he can. The ending is sort of happy, although there's not much hope in it. On this most recent viewing, it left me with a powerful feeling of melancholy.
I just can't understand when people complain about children's shows or movies being "too dark." Obviously it would be a stupid idea to show a kid something like Martyrs or Cannibal Holocaust, but insisting that children only consume entertainment that is completely vapid and saccharine strikes me as profoundly stupid. For a kid who was dealing with overwhelming darkness and too shy to reach out for help, this stuff was there for me. I felt heard. Would you take those healing experiences away from me just for the sake of your squeaky-clean delusions?