I wanted to love Happy Feet, the animated film based on the Emperor penguins we learned about in the fabulous documentary March of the Penguins. Through much of the feature I did love it.
The singing is fun with epic remakes of 70’s tunes by favorites like Earth Wind and Fire and Queen as well as many current hits and catchy Latin songs.
The computer graphics are really amazing; feathers that look fuzzy or have sheen, water that glistens and bubbles, snow that is powdery, icy and sparkly. The animals look and move beautifully and pop visually against the gorgeous and well-lit scenery and there is a pack of wacky penguins lead by “Ramon” (Robin Williams) whose comedy steals the movie.
The story starts out sweetly. All Emperor penguins are born with beautiful voices used to sing a “heartsong” that they will use to find their soul mate. Our protaganist penguin “Mumble” (Elijah Wood) hatches completely tone deaf but with “happy feet” that tap dance all over the frozen landscape. Actually I didn’t find the dancing all that impressive-penguin’s legs are really short and ungraceful and I couldn’t figure out how the tapping sound was generated off of the snow. I kept thinking that it should sound muffled…
Anyway, because of Mumble’s inability to sing and the weird thing he was doing with his feet he is ostracized from the clan. I thought that the grown up Mumble was a little creepy looking too, scary blue eyes and ugly mottled feathers — not anything like the silken and sleek looking adult males.
The unhip, puritanical and stereotypic sounding elders make him a scapegoat. Blah, blah, blah old people don’t get it, they are stuck in their ways, they don’t understand dancing, what’s wrong with kids these days? We get it, we have heard it a million times, remember Footloose?
The ostracised Mumble leaves the penquins and his true love “Gloria” (a dull Brittany Murphy) and vows to find the “aliens” that are stealing all of the fish.
What happens next is a garbled, confused and circuitous trip that leaves Mumble literally insane. Suddenly this charming little love story turns into a frightening cross between Finding Nemo and a Greenpeace documentary about saving the planet. Man is really, really bad…or is man good…Emperor Penguins are bad…or are they good…are we saving the seals and the whales or are they bad? Stop overfishing, global warming, zoos, Puritans…I don’t know, I couldn’t figure out the message.
I guess all of that is irrelavent because my kids didn’t pick up on any of it. The environmental plot went right over their heads.
My kids liked the singing and the dancing which is where the movie should have stopped.
Two smiley faces for “Happy Feet,” which could have been a lot better.