Alberta Premier Jason Kenney would like us to take him very seriously.
The primary industry in his province is under siege. Boxed in by high production costs, low international prices and a well-earned reputation for poor environmental performance, the oilsands are in deep shit. This is making Albertans lose faith in Canada, as some pipelines get canceled, and others are bought and saved by the feds (he doesn’t mention that often for some reason.)
Anyway, something worse has come along: a Belgian produced film re-dubbed in English and distributed on Netflix to poison the minds of children with the message that oil companies are, uh, bad.
Bigfoot Family is an animated children’s movie, and it has captured the attention of the most important parts of Kenney’s cabinet — namely, his attention.
“You can dismiss this as ‘merely a kids show,’ but it’s clear they developed content designed to defame — in the most vicious way possible, in the impressionable minds of kids — the largest industry in the province,” Kenney said at a recent press conference after getting a question from the gallery.
After hearing that, I began to wonder what exactly Kenney is so afraid of? What could be so threatening about this cartoon movie? While flipping though Netflix last weekend, I also noticed Bigfoot Family had cracked into the Top 10 most viewed for Canada. And so, dear reader, I blasted this animated propaganda directly into my brainstem, losing 90 minutes of my life I will likely never get back, all for you.
Spoilers ahead, so if, for whatever reason, you’re planning on watching this, come back after.
“Every family is weird, but trust me, mine is the weirdest. My mom is pretty normal, but my dad is Bigfoot. Yes, the Bigfoot.”
That’s the opening narration from Adam, the hero of the movie and the son of Bigfoot.
Bigfoot is looking for some meaning in his life. He wants to make the world a better place, and use his new-found fame after coming out of the woods to raise awareness about things.
“What’s the point of fame if I don’t use it to make the world a better place?” Bigfoot asks his family.
He finds the point when he reads a letter from a couple protesters up in Alaska who are trying to get attention for their cause. An oil company has opened production in a pristine valley, claiming they had perfected a “green” form of oil extraction with zero environmental harms. The protesters want to see what’s really going on at the extraction site, but the dastardly oil company won’t let them.
And so our villain is introduced: Xtract Oil and its CEO, Connor Mandrake. Seemingly a walking granola man stereotype, Mandrake has long hair, a shark-tooth necklace and a soul patch. How could a guy this crunchy be evil?
“The world still needs oil. Back in my father’s day, extracting oil made a heck of a mess. That’s what drove us to invent Xtract’s new clean oil technology. We’re really more of a tech company these days,” Mandrake says in a TV interview. “Nobody cares more about the environment than me.”
And here you can start to see why a guy like Kenney might not be so thrilled. It turns out Mandrake isn’t actually interested in the environment, and Xtract’s “clean oil technology” is just a cartoon version of fracking that involves setting off bombs to have oil bubble up to the surface.
It gets worse, in that the dastardly Xtract planned to detonate a supersized explosive deep underground to frack the whole valley in one swift kaboom, turning the mountain pass into a crude oil revision. (Which actually kind of mirrors an honest-to-god plan for the Alberta Athabasca tar sands in the late ’50s.)
Also, once Mandrake sheds his tech-bro veneer and begins talking in his true Texas drawl, he starts donning a big white Stetson, no doubt pushing another one of Alberta’s buttons.
Papa Bigfoot had decided to take a look for himself to see what was going on, before he was captured by the company. Adam and his mother decide to follow Bigfoot into the Alaskan wilderness to figure out what happened to their big hairy patriarch, only for the mother to be captured too.
So, then, it’s up to our teen hero to save the day. Which goes well until he gets kicked into a derelict mine shaft by Mandrake, reunites with his Bigfoot family and together they manage to defuse the big bomb at the very last second and expose the villain to the world with a viral video.
The government of Alberta’s oil and gas war room jumped on the movie. The Canadian Energy Centre launched a website for a mass letter-writing campaign to Netflix, asking the company to use its “powerful platform to tell the true story of Canada’s peerless oil and gas industry.”
“Brainwashing our kids with anti-oil and gas propaganda is just wrong — and Netflix needs to know that!” they continue. “Our children are the key to the future — but they can’t succeed if they’re filled with misinformation.”
This grave threat to the children — won’t somebody think of them! — then caught Kenney’s eye. Kenney is using this as another example of how the world is just so unfair to the industry that has brought us to the brink of climate catastrophe.
He takes particular issue with the violence committed by Xtract and its hired goons. Real oil companies wouldn’t actually kidnap a child and throw him down a mine shaft to die with his family. How dare these “Hollywood elites” sully the good names of oil executives like that.
Outside of the cartoons, oil executives prefer to get their way with wads of cash and industry propaganda.
This is a Belgian film about a Texas company extracting oil in Alaska. But it portrays oil companies as cruel polluters of pristine wilderness, who don’t care about the effects of their operations on flora or fauna. And this can’t stand for Kenney and his government. Giving kids the idea that the oil industry might not be playing things on the up and up when it comes to the climate is in some ways a pretty grave threat to his whole project.
The fuss thrown up by Kenney and his war room seems to have had the opposite effect to what they intended. The director of the film, Ben Stassen, told the Canadian Press Bigfoot Family had fallen off the Netflix most-watched charts a couple weeks after its release — until the war room started their big, dumb campaign
“There were probably between 30 and 50 million people who saw the film on Netflix over the last four weeks,” Stassen told CP. “I don’t know to what extent, but the controversy helped the film rather than hurt.” He added, “Thank you for doing it.”
Alberta is in a deep crisis where its largest industry is in great peril because it produces a horrific pollutant at higher-than average polluting potency, and costs more to get out of the ground than it is worth. The province has lived for years on the assumption that its oil industry can carry its budgets, so it has absurdly low tax rates making it impossible to keep it on any stable fiscal ground without deep cuts to services.
With no actual solutions to the myriad crises his province is facing, Kenney can only whine and bluster about a crummy cartoon. When he was elected, Kenney promised to pick symbolic fights to make people feel good. He didn’t have solutions, just bullshit. So, it’s fitting that he picked a fight over a movie with little buzz about it until he opened his mouth.
Facing a serious generational crisis, the best the premier can muster is a fight against a cartoon Bigfoot.