Singing but hungry penguins find their savior in a tap-dancing fool

Happy Feet

on November 17, 2006 by Kim Williamson
If one is interested in seeing Happy Feet, the latest from filmmaker George Miller (who scripted and produced the similarly themed Babe ), the place to see it is at your local IMAX. The giant-screen company's DMR process has taken this widescreen Technicolor tale of an emperor penguin born dancing into a society of singers, in a film replete with some of the most energetic camera work and most sumptuous and detailed landscapes that animation has ever seen, and made it all huge: The setting is huge, the beauty is huge, the entertainment is huge.

Even on a standard 35mm canvas, the long-in-the-works Happy Feet proves, at least for the first three-fourths of its 108-minute running time, to be just what aficionados of the digital art form have been hoping for: something new and grown-up. From a cosmologic opening take on Earth and the life that evolved on it to its main story -- a sort of South Pole version of Christmas staple Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer -- of Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood), who is in love with the gloriously voiced Gloria (Brittany Murphy) but who faces the disapproval of elders, including his own father (Hugh Jackman), for being different, through to its concluding section, which finds Mumble discovering why fish are disappearing from the penguins' feeding grounds and finding a way to reverse the path toward starvation, Happy Feet is an animated work clearly made by intelligent adults for intelligent adults -- and their children.

However, the final section -- where Mumble voyages off into the world, only to be captured and put dazed into an aquarium and later returned to his homeland, but with a huge tracking gizmo implanted into his back -- could have some moviegoers squirming uncomfortably in their seats. It's not only that the ecological arguments being made are made somewhat simple-mindedly; it's that seeing the happy-go-lucky creature so abused and "used" capsizes the original intent of the film. It's an intent no stranger to anyone who has seen Babe : The odd youngster who, following a natural bent that everyone else finds unnatural, finds triumph; but, where in Babe that was sufficient, Miller here grafts onto that story a second sermon about human misbehavior toward the planet, and the two fail to mesh.

Another highlight of Happy Feet is the soundtrack, both the music -- which rocks and rollicks -- and the voicings, including Robin Williams providing two characters with his usual animated zing and E.G. Daily (the second Babe) doing an exquisite Baby Mumble. Distributor: Warner Bros.
Voices: Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, Brittany Murphy, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Hugo Weaving, Anthony LaPaglia, E.G. Daily, Magda Szubanski and Miriam Margolyes
Director: George Miller
Screenwriters: George Miller, John Collee, Judy Morris and Warren Coleman
Producers: Doug Mitchell, George Miller and Bill Miller
Genre: Animated musical
Rating: PG for some mild peril and rude humor
Running time: 108 min.
Release date: November 17, 2006

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