It’s March of the Penguins meets The Little Mermaid in this cute musical tour de force.
Happy Feet is the story of Mumble (Elijah Wood), a young emperor penguin who just doesn’t fit in. The emperor penguins are singers who find their mates by luring them with their special “heartsong.” And Mumble’s parents, the sweet Norma Jean (Nicole Kidman) and delta-hip Memphis (Hugh Jackman), are no exception.
When Mumble hatches, it quickly becomes apparent that he isn’t like all the other penguins. He tries to sing, but his voice is so glass-shatteringly awful that it seems like he may never win the heart of his angel-voiced friend, Gloria (Brittany Murphy). And then there’s the matter of his feet; Mumble just can’t keep from dancing—a definite oddity in the penguin community. As a result, he quickly becomes a pariah in the colony, ultimately getting thrown out by rickety old ruler Noah the Elder, played by Hugo Weaving.
Cast out of his home, Mumble meets a gang of five decidedly feisty but friendly Adelie penguins who change the course of his life. Their leader, Ramon (Robin Williams), fancies himself quite the lady-killer, and he is positive that Mumble’s fancy footwork will go over big with the rest of the Adelies. For the first time, Mumble has friends. He belongs.
Through the support of the Adelies, Mumble embarks on a journey to find the source of the food shortage that threatens his emperor penguin colony. On a more metaphoric level, Mumble’s trek underscores his search to find acceptance for his true self.
I will admit it: I am not the first person to rush out to the theater when I hear that another animated feature is coming out. But the trailers for Happy Feet had me at their first shuffle-step combo, and I’m pleased to report that the movie didn’t disappoint.
It is everything you’d expect from a big-budget animated Warner Bros. production—smooth script, impressive musical numbers, and cutting-edge animation. The characters aren’t exactly deep—Memphis is the dad who wants his kid to fit in at any cost and blames himself for that not happening, Norma Jean is the mother who loves him no matter what. But the voice performances are good, especially, of course, Robin Williams. In addition to playing lovably macho Ramon, a part which required him to sing My Way—in Spanish—he also voiced Lovelace, the obese, charismatic, televangelist-like rock hopper penguin who becomes the guru of the Adelies through his mystic talisman necklace—a plastic soda-pop six-pack ring.
The story moved along fairly well, although it is packed with quite a few extended action sequences (for example, the first time the young emperor penguins try to catch fish) that seem to be there just to show off the CGI animation as opposed to forwarding the plot. But then again, the wide audience of children who will undoubtedly flock to Happy Feet will likely not be complaining about that. And there is the problem of the ending: there’s an awkward sequence that drags on at the end of the movie, making it seem as though they just weren’t sure how to wrap things up.
It was the unexpected aspects of Happy Feet that most impressed me. For starters, despite being an animated fiction feature about talking, singing, and dancing animals, anyone who saw March of the Penguins will actually recognize many of the penguins’ behaviors, such as the scene with the male penguins, incubating their eggs and huddling together against the ravaging Antarctic night while the female penguins head off on the perilous trek to find food. Plus, emperor penguins really do sing heartsongs to each other as a means of identifying one another. Given, in reality those heartsongs might not be Somebody to Love or Boogie Wonderland, but the point remains.
Even more surprising and impressive was the movie’s main message of acceptance. Mumble lives in a world where no matter how much he tries to conform he just doesn’t have what it takes. He faces an old, superstitious group of rulers whose worldview allows no room for individuality. The similarity to the current political administration’s “If you’re not with us, you’re against us” mentality when they cast him out for being different hardly seems accidental. And it is only through Mumble’s acceptance of himself, through his understanding that different doesn’t necessarily mean “wrong,” that the community finds its salvation.
If you’ve got kids, they’re going to want to see this movie. But luckily, you don’t need to be a kid to enjoy it.
What's on the Disc:
There are a couple of cute and thoughtful extras on the Happy Feet DVD.
"Mumble Meets a Blue Whale" and "A Happy Feet Moment" fall into the deleted scenes category, although the former is actually more of a new scene. Recently deceased zoologist and crocodile hunter Steve Irwin had laid down the voice work for a scene as an albatross, but it was ultimately cut out in favor of using him as one of the elephant seals (that did make it into the final cut). After his death, the filmmakers went back and completed the albatross scene in his honor and included it in the DVD.
For musically-themed numbers, there is "Dance Like a Penguin" (a featurette on dancing for the kids with Happy Feet choreographer Savion Glover), as well as two music videos - Hit Me Up by Gia (very Disney-feeling kids' video) and The Song of the Heart by Prince (using clips from the movie).
There are also some computer-only features, so make sure to slip the disc into your DVD-rom.
But my favorite features by far are, and I'm shocked to say this, the trailer - it's the one with Robin Williams as Ramon singing My Way (it's just so damn cute) - and, keeping with Happy Feet's environmentally-conscious theme, a little wallet card from Seafood Watch telling you which fish are okay to eat and which are caught in ways that harm the environment. Nice.