In praise of “Rang-tan”, a poem about palm oil

It’s that time of year again when retailers debut their Christmas adverts, and we tune in in our thousands to watch them. From sweetly sentimental to comically cheery, there’s something for everyone – but this year, one retailer’s Christmas advert campaigned for change and was subsequently “banned” from TV for being too political.

Iceland’s 90-second animated short features a poem about a little girl who discovers an orangutan in her bedroom and learns that it’s there because its own home has been threatened by deforestation due to palm oil production.

There’s a Rang-tan in my bedroom and I don’t know what to do.
She plays with all my teddies and keeps borrowing my shoe.
She destroys all of my houseplants and she keeps on shouting “ooo!”
She throws away my chocolate and she howls at my shampoo.

There’s a Rang-tan in my bedroom and I don’t want her to stay.
So I told the naughty Rang-tan that she had to go away.
Oh Rang-tan in my bedroom, just before you go…
Why were you in my bedroom?
I really want to know.

There’s a human in my forest and I don’t know what to do.
He destroyed all of our trees for your food and your shampoo.
There’s a human in my forest and I don’t know what to do.
He took away my mother and I’m scared he’ll take me too.
There are humans in my forest and I don’t know what to do.
They’re burning it for palm oil so I thought I’d stay with you.

Oh Rang-tan in my bedroom, now I do know what to do.
I’ll fight to save your home and I’ll stop you feeling blue.
I’ll share your story far and wide so others can fight too.
Oh Rang-tan in my bedroom, I swear it on the stars
The future’s not yet written but I’ll make sure it is ours.

The poem, created by Greenpeace and adopted by Iceland following its decision to remove palm oil from its own-label products, highlights the environmental impact of palm oil production. This may not be a very festive subject but the advert conveys an important message and makes a refreshing change from the usual Christmas commercials, which are primarily designed to sell us things.

Here are some of the things I love about the poem and how it’s presented in the advert:

  • The poem is mostly written in monorhyme (i.e. the end of every line shares the same sound, using the rhyming scheme AAAA), giving it a rhythmic quality which makes it especially appealing to children – the environmentalists of the future.
  • It switches back and forth between narrators, which is an effective storytelling device that gives us both the child’s and the orangutan’s points of view.
  • It’s evocative; if you heard the poem without the animation, you could still picture the behaviour of the orangutan and the destruction of the forest.
  • It’s emotive; the poem takes you on a journey, beginning with a humorous tone, becoming more serious as the full story is revealed and ending on an uplifting note.
  • It’s recited by the inimitable Emma Thompson, who brings additional “light and shade” to the story through her narration.

I love the advert and was disappointed to hear that it had been “banned” from TV, although there’s a bit more to this story than meets the eye (as this article explains). In any case, the silver lining is that the advert’s since racked up over 30 million aggregated views across social media and is on course to be the most watched Christmas advert ever. Isn’t that ironic (don’t you think)?

What do you think of the advert? Let me know in the comments.

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