EDMONTON — The director of a children’s movie about Bigfoot wants to thank the Alberta government’s energy centre for starting a “ludicrous” fight over the film.
Ben Stassen laughed several times as he told The Canadian Press that the animated “Bigfoot Family” had dropped from the top 10 list of most-viewed films on Netflix about 15 days after its February debut.
After the controversy earlier this month, “it went back up to number eight and stayed there until last Sunday,” Stassen, who also produced and wrote the movie, said from his home in Brussels.
He added that the movie also made it on the top 10 most-viewed list for other streaming services, such as iTunes and Google Play.
“There were probably between 30 and 50 million people who saw the film on Netflix over the last four weeks,” Stassen said.
“I don’t know to what extent, but the controversy helped the film rather than hurt.
“Thank you for doing it.”
The movie follows a character named Adam and his Bigfoot dad as they take on an evil oil tycoon from Texas, who wants to explode a fictional place named Rocky Valley for its oil.
The Canadian Energy Centre started a petition against the movie, urging people to send Netflix Canada letters saying the film villainizes energy workers and tells lies about the oil sector.
The energy centre, which is informally called the “war room,” is funded by the province to challenge false reports on the oil industry.
Both Premier Jason Kenney and Energy Minister Sonya Savage have backed the its campaign against the film.
Stassen, who may be best known for his work on other animated movies such as “A Turtle’s Tale: Sammy’s Adventures” and “Fly Me to the Moon,” said Netflix has received about 3,400 letters as part of the centre’s petition.
He said he first learned about the criticism when the movie’s script writers emailed him news stories.
“It’s just that it’s silly,” he said. “This is ludicrous. How can politicians get involved in the controversy about a kids’ cartoon?
“I mean Bigfoot lives in a house with a bear, you know, with a raccoon. And they all talk to each other. How can you spend public money to go after a family film that has no intention, other than to entertain?”
He said the movie is the sequel to the 2017 film “The Son of Bigfoot.”
“In the first film, Bigfoot survives thanks to nature. So he wants to give nature back what nature had given him to be able to survive all these years in the wilderness,” Stassen said.
“So that was the idea, nothing, you know, specifically for or against the oil industry.”
The CEO and managing director of the Canadian Energy Centre said in an email that its campaign against the movie has been a huge success.
“The CEC’s campaign received support from people concerned about mistruths presented to kids, and from energy workers who felt attacked,” said Tom Olsen.
He said Stassen needs to take responsibility for the messages he is spreading through his work.
“Regarding his thanking us, the movie was performing well before we got involved, and was the subject of complaints from parents.
“Shrugging it off as just a kids movie is a dodge.”
Stassen said he found it funny when he learned that in the 1950s Alberta actually approved a project dubbed “Project Cauldron,” which was to detonate a nuclear bomb to liquefy the thick oilsands near Fort McMurray. The provincial government’s website details the proposal and says it was eventually quashed.
“I know nothing about the oil industry, but I’m not that stupid to think that you extract oil by exploding a megaton bomb on the ground,” Stassen said.
Despite the similarity to Project Cauldron, he said his movie is fiction.
“It’s just entertainment. It has nothing to do with Alberta,” he said. “Why they felt targeted by the film, that I do not know.”
He added that he’s proud about possibly raising awareness of how bad drilling can be for wildlife.
“That’s the only thing that I was hoping people would get out of it.”
Stassen said he doesn’t know if there will be a third bigfoot movie, but if he gets the opportunity, he’ll take it.
“What would the next Bigfoot be? Maybe I’ll take him to Africa.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 28, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press