Happy Feet (2006)

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Review #311 of 365
Movie Review of Happy Feet (2006) [PG] 98 minutes
WIP™ Scale: $14.25
Where Viewed: United Artists Denver Pavilions Stadium 15, Denver, CO
When 1st Seen: 18 November 2006
Time: 11:55 a.m.
Film's Official Website
DVD Release Date: unscheduled
Review Dedicated to: H.A.T. of Atlanta, GA

Directed by: George Miller (Babe: Pig in the City)
Written by: Warren Coleman, John Collee (Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World), George Miller (Babe: Pig in the City), and Judy Morris (Babe: Pig in the City)
Choreography by: Savion Glover

Featured Voice Cast (Where You Might Remember Him/Her From):
Elijah Wood (Everything Is Illuminated) • Brittany Murphy (Sin City) • Hugh Jackman (The Prestige) • Nicole Kidman (Bewitched) • Hugo Weaving (V for Vendetta) • Robin Williams (Man of the Year) • Johnny A. Sanchez (Pauly Shore Is Dead) • Carlos Alazraqui ("Handy Manny") • Lombardo Boyar ("The Bernie Mac Show") • Steve Irwin (Dr. Dolittle 2) • Nicholas McKay ("Farscape")

Soundtrack: order the CD below

Click for 'Review Lite' [a 150-word or less review of this film]
Happy Feet has the honor of being the last fully-animated film of this year, the year of the animated film. The Academy of Motion Picture, Arts, and Sciences will have its work cut out for it this year having far more films than can be nominated for Best Animated film, and with a few of the films being among the best of the year. Last of the year is a good position to be in as the film will be most fresh on the nominating minds. Throughout the year, I have been highly critical of animated films pitched at children for not knowing their audience very well. The Director must appreciate the point of view of parents and guardian who may not want their young children exposed to some of the violent fare released in animated films this year. Meanwhile, some of the stories of this year's animated films have been insufficient to capture the attention of the accompanying adults. Happy Feet breaks the mold on the second part and mostly fulfils the first.

Mumble Hatches
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How scary and little kid friendly is it? Well, the story, which follows the life of Mumble the emperor penguin (voiced by Elijah Wood), begins with his hatching under the care of his father Memphis (voiced by Hugh Jackman). This part is a bit sad at first, no so much for kids, but grown ups. Not long after finally meeting his mother, Norma Jean (voiced by Nicole Kidman), it is discovered that Mumble has no singing voice and no hope, therefore, of ever finding a mate with his heart song. What he does have is the ability to tap dance up a storm thanks to the animated choreography of Savion Glover. As a chick, the awkward Mumble, narrowly escapes a scary encounter with a flock of carnivorous birds who have decided he'll make a fine lunch. As the season's hatchlings grow, they develop their heart songs, Mumble develops a soft spot for Gloria (voiced by Brittany Murphy), and they learn to swim. Their swimming, however, causes another scary encounter with these hungry raptors. After enduring a season of social ostracism, Mumble grows up looking a bit more like a penguin in a tuxedo with dark feathers forming a bow-tie-like shape just in the right spot, he finally leaves his flock to go out a bit on his own. He stumbles upon a new flock of penguins in Adelie Land, and a new group of friends who find him accidentally cool called the Adelie Amigos led by Rámon (voiced by Robin Williams). They bond through a mutal attack by a leopard seal who wishes to claim them all for his lunch. Rámon decides then to help Mumble win Gloria using a Cyrano de Bergerac-style trick where he'll sing for Muble who will lip-sync the song. Gloria catches on to the ruse and everything seems to be running afowl until he decides to be himself and woo here with dance.

Mumble tries to win Gloria's heart.
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What ensues is a musically entrancing number that ends with the entire flock dancing and to the beat of Mumble's dance steps and Gloria's song. The affair, however, draws the attention of the flock elder, Noah (voiced by Hugo Weaving) who ends up banishing Mumble from the flock for his wicked ways which he believes have driven the fish from the sea and are responsible for starvation in the flock.

Lovelace explains it all.
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This sends Mumble on a new adventure to get to the bottom of the disappearing fish in the food chain, where a mystical Rock Hopper penguin named Lovelace (voiced by Robin Williams) guides him to believe the fish population decline is due to the harvesting of the waters by mystical beings (humans). There are then subsequently nasty attacks by Orcas, humans, a zoo, and a few other perils before Mumble safely returns to his old flock to share with them his discoveries. So, there are some very scary and disturbing scenes for young children to keep in mind.

"…one of the most powerful and moving social allegories of the decade…only subtle shades of perfection away from…Cars. The two should go head-to-head in the voting for the Oscar®…"
Whether the film is too scary for younger kids or not, its story represents one of the most powerful and moving social allegories of the decade on the dangers of group-think and hate mongering toward those in a society who are different from the 'desired' norms. The subtle 'attack' on the religious right in the USA will be difficult to miss as Noah the elder struggles to maintain the past beliefs of the penguin flock that their food store declines are the result of the unhappiness of the great provider not scientifically proven trends, that crazy dancing moves by Mumble threaten the very peace and stability of the flock, and that penguins who fail to conform to the social norms should be ostracized and ultimately outcast. Those in the USA who fail to meet the standards of far right-leaning conservatives will feel chills in seeing this film as Noah seems rendered from the archetypes of the most right-wing and puritanical religious leaders of the past and present. All we would need to have seen was a scene of him secretly dancing out of sight of the flock to have made this film have seemed ripped from the headlines. Of course, the film has been in production for years, so any relation to the near recent history is purely coincidental. Powerfully moving, the film delves below the surface revealing much more than just the tip of the iceberg. Eventually, it has a happy ending. Along the way, it forces contemplation of human devastation on the planet's ecosystem through over-harvesting the sea, polluting the land and sea, and amplifying climate change via green house gas emissions; of the human dilemmas such as the morality of zoos, establishing research stations in non-human populated regions of the world, and tagging animals for future research; and of the social aspects of our own human culture where we foster hatred for those who are different, feel the moral imperative to transfer our prejudice and hatred on to our children, and justify that hatred and loathing using vague, hand-selected, Biblical references born of the arrogance of some persons who presume to know what an omniscient, supreme, higher power might really want for all of us. One of the shortcomings of the film that may prove to be a source of rancor and criticism could emerge from the racial stereotypes used to create some of the penguin characters. The Adelie Amigos, for example, seem to bear the brunt of this faux pas, and given that a non-Latino person was given the job of voicing the lead Amigo, there could certainly be some outcry over this. It was a shame that this was done, especially in a film that works so hard to combat prejudice of which stereotyping is on the beginning phase.

Tap dancing legend, Savion Glover, choreographs penguin dance moves.
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The animation of the film is stunning and ultra-realistic. Once again, the animators have proven that they can truly blur the line between reality and fantasy. The voice actors all do fantastic jobs, with Robin Williams on triple duty, in helping bring life to the characters. Director, George Miller, could well be the most versatile director alive with Lorenzo's Oil, Babe: Pig in the City, the Mad Max trilogy, and now Happy Feet on his résumé. As for the music and dance, Savion Glover's motion capture work was amazing, and John Powell (X-Men: The Last Stand) original music keeps the show-stopping dance numbers alive. For all of these reasons, Happy Feet stands well above the huge flock of animated films released this year in a class by itself. It is only subtle shades of perfection, and some indifferent racial stereo-typing away from this year's best animated film, Cars. The two should be the frontrunners in the voting for the Oscar®.

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Voice Cast Members
Elijah WoodBrittany MurphyHugh Jackman
Nicole KidmanHugo WeavingRobin Williams
Johnny A. SanchezCarlos AlazraquiLombardo Boyar
Steve IrwinNicholas McKay
George Miller
John ColleeJudy Morris
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Happy Feet (2006) Review-lite [150-word cap]
Happy Feet follows the life of Mumble the penguin (Elijah Wood) from his hatching when it is discovered he cannot sing and has no hope of finding a mate, to the revelation that he can tap dance up a storm thanks to the animated choreography of Savion Glover, to his ostracism and banishment from the flock, through nasty attacks by Orcas, humans, leopard seals, and other perils Mumble must survive before safely returning to his flock to share the cause of the declining fish population falsely attributed to his dance moves. The story represents one of the most powerful social allegories of the decade on the dangers of group-think and hate mongering toward those in a society who are different from the 'desired' norms. Stunning animation, talented voice acting, John Powell music, Glover dance moves, all add up to making Happy Feet only subtle shades of perfection away from Cars.

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