A well-translated 'individual vs. society' romp
Animated comedies have become what Mike Tyson was to the boxing scene
in the 1980's: a safe bet. This begs an upsurge in quality for the
market and the otherwise forgettable family fluff films have begun to
interweave deeper, more salient issues in their stories. Political
messages about environmental problems was perhaps the last thing I
expected to find rotating around in a happy, tappy romp like 'Happy
Feet' but the fact is they are there, and they are superbly handled, as
is much of the film.
Advertising the film as a propaganda vehicle would have been grossly
unwise, which is why the simple template story rings true to most
people. All that has been put forward in trailers and synopses is the
lonely journey of the Emperor Penguin Mumble (Elijah Wood), who is an
outcast owing to his poor singing voice and tapalicious feet. The rest
of the tight-knit, conformist community all rely on special heartsongs
to appeal to mates, and not being able to carry a tune is a fatal
misstep for Mumble. When he finally finds friends in Ramon's (Robin
Williams) foreign group of Adelie penguins, it becomes clear that there
are more things threatening the penguin society on Antarctica the
most prominent of which being human overfishing.
One third into 'Happy Feet', I found myself drifting ever so slightly
into indifference as the sprawling surge of R'n'B on the ice wore off.
The emperor penguins all sing tunes you have heard before and it is not
until Mumble encounters the eccentric party group of Adelies that Happy
Feet receives a well-deserved kickstart and starts tapping into good
fun. Thankfully, and admirably, it manages to avoid pratfalls,
slapstick, pee- and fart jokes and instead the finely-tuned humour
rests on the wealth of meticulous animation, juxtaposition, absurdist
situations and snaptastic one-liners from Ramon's crew as they take
Mumble in and introduce him to their kooky, fun-loving society and
social guru, "Lovelace". This is seen in stark contrast from the
emperor penguins' community on the humour side of the tapestry, and the
funniest gag in the latter is Kidman returning from the long fishing
journey and telling her baby Mumble lovingly that she "has got
something for him", and proceeds to vomit into his mouth. Priceless.
Happy Feet is an ambitious animated comedy. It's ambitious in its
scope; there are epic aerial shots of the vast icy glacier, even from
outer spaces, it treats salient issues like the effects of overfishing,
it takes well-deserved jabs at organized religion, in which the elder
emperor penguins represent the archaic values and traditions that they
mindlessly adhere to. It features a star-studded cast, it sees seamless
intercutting of live action footage and stars (I spotted an uncredited
Ewan McGregor cameo, look out), and it is dedicated to Steve Irwin.
Certainly 'Happy Feet' carries all of its ambitions quite well, some
becoming accolades like the effective punch at conformity in which all
the penguins literally look identical except for the fuzzy, fluffy
Mumble, while others fall flat thanks to its shortcoming cast.
It should only be so hard to provide voicework for an animated
character, and Elijah Wood does it effortlessly as the fumbling,
bumbling toddler-like misfit Mumble, who even looks like him with
bright baby blue eyes. Nicole Kidman stars as Mumble's mother, with a
ridiculously over-the-top voice, and she tips over into overacting at a
few points. In the beginning we are given the well-condensed
introductory story of how she met Mumble's father Memphis (Hugh
Jackman) with a heartfelt heartsong, and she gets to reprise her
romantic duet singing of Moulin Rouge opposite fellow Aussie. All of
the aforementioned actors, as well as Robin Williams and Hugo Weaving,
perform well in their respective supporting roles all except the
unforgivably redundant Brittany Murhpy as Mumble's perpetual
love-interest (who is a bad singer to boot), a plain annoying and
unlikeable character backed by an equally unlikable actress.
Owing to its mindblowing animation (which has been absolutely honed in
the past few years) and treatment of salient issues, 'Happy Feet' could
not have been made five or even four years ago. The former is
translated into unspeakably beautiful sequences of underwater chases
and ice slides while the latter manifests itself in apt environmental
warnings. Although I was mostly entertained, there were a few too many
purposely "aww" moments crammed in and certainly it does not quite
dethrone the majestic 'Ice Age' (2002) as the best sub-zero comedy ever
made. There, I've now said so little in so many words.
7 out of 10.
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Excellent film - we loved it!.
Great imaginative feature from George Miller
This is a great animated feature from George Miller, and displays the
same energy and imagination as in his 2 BABE movies. I had read some
comments about the 'environmentalist angle' and suitability for younger
children, and completely disagree with these comments. My 5 year old
daughter chose this movie over CHARLOTTE'S WEB, and I'm glad she did
(and I'm glad I took her anyways despite the comments.) Wonderful
story, first and foremost centered on Mumbles the dancing penguin
(never thought I'd write that.) There's a pretty obvious story about
following your heart, but it's done really well and doesn't feel
by-the-numbers at all. Some have derided the environmentalist subplot,
but I really don't agree. This is not about electric cars, global
warming, or deforestation, it's about a dancing penguin that lives
among singing penguins. It's a local story about what is happening to
the penguin herd, and how the protagonist sets off to try to set things
right after being unfairly blamed for the problem.
The resolution of the story struck me as being very whimsical as in the
BABE movies (I mean that in a good way.) With all the hoopla about
environmental issues, I think there is a tendency to bring outside
baggage into the movie. Pro-environmentalists might see the movie as
not providing any 'answers' or not being strong enough, whereas as
others might ironically see the movie as being overtly
pro-environmental. I guess this is understandable, but I personally
loved the story.
What is more impressive than just the plot, is how everything is
presented in the movie. George Miller and the other writers have taken
many of the natural behaviors of the Emperor penguins (their breeding
song, migratory behavior, caring for eggs) and dramatized them for the
story. Yes, they are of course anthropomorphizing the penguins, but it
is done in a particularly creative and inspired way that minimizes the
Disney cuteness factor. There's a feeling of the harshness of the
elements that is lacking in otherwise pretty good movies like BROTHER
Some people have commented on the suitability of the movie for younger
children. There is nothing overtly sexual at all in the movie. The
movie shows penguins singing their 'heartsongs' to try to attract a
mate. I can perhaps see how some scenes might be construed as 'sexist',
but the scenes worked for me because, well, that's what Emperor
penguins do. And ultimately the movie's main message on this is about
finding your soul-mate by finding your kindred heartsong. Anything else
is really just played for laughs.
Finally, the animation is absolutely top notch. Some scenes are very
close to photo-realistic. More importantly, the art direction is great
throughout. I loved the wide shots showing the entire penguin herd. And
of course, great dance numbers. Music plays a large role in this movie,
and they do a great job of characterizing the penguins that are
otherwise not very physically expressive- the penguins are drawn pretty
realistically, so they don't have too much in the way of facial
Speaking of characterization, the voice characterizations are great as
well (as was also the case in BABE PIG IN THE CITY). Very effective and
entertaining, without getting too overly cute (Robin Williams is
borderline but is otherwise very funny.).