Those of you old enough to remember the “Davy and Goliath” animated series on Sunday mornings will experience a definite feeling of deja vu if you ever come across director Dennis Jackson’s “Christmas at Wapos Bay.” For, whereas the former was a series of crudely animated children’s Bible stories and other morality tales, Jackson’s film is also a morality tale of sorts aimed at indigineous peoples in general and the Cree in particular.
T-Bear, his brother Talon, and their little sister Raven have been staying with their grandparents in the woods of northern Canada. Cyril, their “mushom” or grandfather, is an expert hunter and trapper who’s probably forgotten more about the land than most people will ever know. A patient teacher of all the old ways who always seems to know just what to say, mushom was disappointed with his son’s decision to forsake the land and the old way of life for the city. He’s been passing on as much of that knowledge as he can to his grandkids during their visit and is pleased at their interest.
It’s now nearly Christmas, however, and his son and daughter-in-law will be joining Cyril, his wife and the rest of the extended family for a Christmas celebration. Unfortunately, a devastating fire has left a barren land in its wake. While Cyril worries about trapping enough food for the feast, T-Bear and Talon take it upon themselves to embark on a dangerous hunting and trapping mission to prove that they’ve learned the ways their mushom has taught them.
“Children at Wapos Bay” is a brightly colored, visually pleasing mix of stop-motion supplemented by computer animation. It’s somehow oddly reassuring and comforting to discover that the old “When I was your age…” stand-by is just as prevalent among indigineous peoples as it is the rest of us. This message, though necessarily simplistic considering that its target audience is children, still resonates in a modern world where we’d just as soon clear a forest for a subdivision as live in the forest itself.
One can’t help watching this film without feeling a wistful pang that not everyone’s life can be as simple — and satisfying — as Cyril’s. Though that may not be possible, “Christmas at Wapos Bay” might yet give us a present; a gentle reminder to temper our “progress” with respect for the world in which we live.