Happy Feet (2006) dir. George Miller
Voices by: Elijah Wood, Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, Robin Williams
If you’re a cinephile, and want to take a break from Bela Tarr or Krzysztof Kieslowski, rent George Miller’s wonderful “Happy Feet” –a visual and auditory treat that’s like a good old bowl of Count Chocula in the morning or a blue ‘freezie’ on a hot summer day. It’ll bring the child-like joy back to your scowling face.
“Happy Feet” won an Oscar for Best Animated film. It’s not necessary as Oscar-worthy feat, considering there’s only a dozen or so animated films made in a year, but I’m just glad the great George Miller has a statuette for anything on his mantel piece.
As with any animated feature the production process is usually a 3-4 year journey, which means its genesis was before “March of the Penguins” and “Madagascar” – so it’s not a copy-cat film. The film takes place mostly in Antarctica; a group of emperor penguins are making their journey with their eggs back home to their colony. If you’ve seen “March of the Penguins” you’ll know how arduous the journey is and how the penguins must keep their eggs protected from the harsh environment in between their legs and under their fur. But “Memphis” (voiced by Hugh Jackman) briefly loses grip of his egg causing it to roll down a slope into the open snow. He quickly recovers it, but the damage is already done. Will the penguin-fetus survive? Yes, and its hatched out by our main character Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood). From infancy Mumble is different, he’s not just the runt of the group, he can’t sing, which for the colony is the unifying characteristic. Every Penguin has their own “heartsong” which distinguishes them as part of the group. Mumble’s only talent is for tap-dancing, which is misunderstood by the elders and so, he is shunned by everyone. Mumble also has an innate sense of curiosity. When he meets a group of birds, one of whom has a tracking tag on its foot, it piques his interest in the so-called “aliens” who live over yonder. He theorizes that these aliens may be causing the decrease in fish in ocean, which ultimately supplies the sustenance for his fellow penguins.
Mumble proceeds to go on a journey outside of his environment to find the mysterious aliens. It’s no secret that the aliens are the human population. Mumble meets a group of smaller, shorter penguins (a slightly different species) who help him in his journey. Mumble and the group proceed to get into a series of adventures on their way to discovering the human world.
For much of the film it’s all about the cute penguins and the American Idol-influenced song and dance routines. I was admittedly skeptical about hearing cover versions of classic pop songs sung by Penguins. Perhaps it was my film-snob ego getting the way, but after the first sequence, I let my guard down which allowed me to enjoy the fun.
Visually the images are stunning – the photo-realism is almost perfect, especially the water and skyscapes. The moments of action and peril the penguins eventually find themselves in also a visual delight. The attack of the seal from underneath the ice is terrific and the killer whale sequence is also a classic. Warning: Spoilers coming up…The final act freshens the film from potential monotony by adding the human element into the film. The careful incorporation of live human characters into the animation is handled well.
Overall, the film doesn’t necessarily rise above the Pixar-benchmark for computer animation, but thankfully it saves us a sappy third act emotional resolution which plagues the Pixar films. And it’s too bad much of its thunder was stolen by “Ice Age”, “March of the Penguins” and “Madagascar”, because without those films “Happy Feet” would have been a more unique film. But nonetheless I still recommend checking your ego at the door and open yourself up to a fun musical extravaganza. Enjoy.
Buy it here: Happy Feet (Widescreen Edition)