How could anyone forget the comic relief in the classic Pixar film “Finding Nemo” as the teeming, hapless seagulls scrapped over morsels of food? “Mine? Mine? Mine?” Heck, the scene was so iconic that the Minnesota Twins — an inland team — plays the gull catchphrase over the loudspeakers every time the visiting team hits a pop fly.
Thirteen years after Nemo, Pixar made a sequel, “Finding Dory,” featuring the forgetful blue tang fish voiced by Ellen DeGeneres. The film opened this weekend.
Just as in the first movie, viewers are treated to some comic relief by bumbling masses of squawking birds tumbling over themselves for a taste of one of the main characters. Only we see that the comic bird blunderers are no longer seagulls. They’re loons.
Now, producers will tell you that the birds in “Finding Dory,” including one of the supporting characters “Becky,” are “ocean loons,” apparently referring to the Pacific Loon which winters near the movie’s California setting. But Pacific Loons have grey heads. One look at the loons in the movie will show the familiar visage of the Common Loon, aka the Official Bird of the Great State of Minnesota.
“Finding Dory” has reduced our beloved diving lake birds into cartoonish oafs.
Minnesota rage! Twitter outrage! Sternly worded letters. Head shaking. Sitting down. Drinking coffee.
OK, so, now that the rage has passed, let’s look at the background.
The origin of the term “loon” is attributed either to the Old English word “lumme” for “lummox” or a similar Scandinavian word “lum” of the same meaning. This might be because loons are absolute klutzes on land, which is why you almost never see them walking.
Another interpretation of the word “loon” is an even older Norse word for “lament,” tied to the loon’s mournful call. It’s anyone’s guess as to which origin of the word is correct.
I guess I just have a soft spot for birds that are clumsy on land. My favorite animal as a kid was the penguin. I love seeing something so clumsy on land (like me) so graceful and competent in its destined environment.
Loons are the same. In fact, if you go by some of the more outrageous Mesabi Daily News “Onions” that run without attribution you’ll see that someone over in Virginia just hates loons. To some, loons are nothing more than deadly killers that gobble up baby ducks like they were Funyuns.
To be fair, baby ducks are delicious, especially in a nice lily pad wrap.
Further, the common loon summers here in Minnesota but spends its winters down in the Gulf of Mexico and off the shores of Florida. There, our loons lose their identifying black color and white spots to sport a mostly grey coat. They don’t do their mating calls or dance on the water like they do up here. Mostly they chill, same as you when you go to Florida.
One imagines these vacationing loons waking up to Bloody Mary’s on the beach, garnished by baby ducks and fish heads. Their eyes are red, after all. Is this in “Finding Dory?” I don’t think so.
There’s a reason loons are called “divers” in Great Britain. They are as comfortable traveling underneath the water as they are paddling along the top. No summer in Minnesota is complete without the sight and sound of these awe-inspiring birds.
So, never you mind that talking fish movie.
If you do go see “Finding Dory,” know that loons are much more dignified than Pixar depicts. They are graceful water birds, skillful assassins, and beautiful singers.
Just don’t ask them to walk without tripping over their feet. That’s not fair, eh.
Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, June 19, 2016 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.