Happy Feet


Reviewed by: Chris

Happy Feet

Happy Feet could almost be described as a Top of the Pops animation of March of the Penguins. But it was nearly four years in the making - as long as the latter hit documentary that moved the hearts of millions in the story of penguins ready to make every sacrifice to give love. A family film rather than kids' entertainment, Happy Feet tells the story of a vocally challenged penguin who nevertheless has a gift for dance. Against all odds, he finds a way to encourage mankind to help penguins survive. The penguins are cute and cuddly, the landscapes are realistically rendered, and the subtexts are delivered with an accuracy to make non-green authoritarians wince.

Investment in the film goes beyond the quickly recouped $85M. Research included sending expeditions to the Antarctic so visual effects and camera crews could capture the textures, light and landscapes. The result is a film that looks and feels realistic enough to be taken seriously - giving extra weight to its strong environmental message. But a film like this is only as good as the fun it generates. The humour is genuine and wholesome but the tap-dancing is addictive.

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Our blue-eyed penguin hero Mumble (or Mambo) has the voice of Elijah 'Frodo' Wood but the tap-dancing of dancer-choreographer Savion Glover. In the production notes to March of the Penguins, Luc Jacquet told us that, in real life, a penguin walks through the crowd and occasionally stops, trumpeting a loud and violent song. This is repeated at intervals until a fellow penguin answers him, upon which there ensues a succession of dancing duos. Happy Feet's hero has to fast forward to the dancing bit.

Dance is one of the oldest means of communication, pre-dating language. As a key story element it is an ideal device for making the connection from animals to the audience, but it is also the pivotal ingredient of Mumble's lovableness that eventually gets him noticed by environmentalists.

But Happy Feet is not preachy. There are moments of pure belly laugh, such as when mamma-penguin regurgitates fish for junior. Or the extended joke about 'alien abductions' (ie contact with people). Some of the humour is more sophisticated - the high priest sounded to me suspiciously like the Reverend Ian Paisley. The knocks on dogmatic, harmful, overbearing and out-of-touch religious dogma will be too close to comfort for some of the faithful. And the parallel moral fables in the story may be beyond younger audiences.

Happy Feet easily crosses an ocean of feelgood and is both an ethically responsible film for children and addictive entertainment for adults. That alone is a remarkable achievement.

Reviewed on: 09 Dec 2006
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Adventures of a toe-tapping penguin.
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Read more Happy Feet reviews:

Tony Sullivan ****1/2
Angus Wolfe Murray ****1/2

Director: George Miller

Writer: Warren Coleman, John Collee, George Miller, Judy Morris

Starring: Voiced by Elijah Wood, Brittany Murphy, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Hugo Weaving, Robin Williams, Johnny A Sanchez, Carlos Alazraqui, Steve Irwin, Lombardo Boyar, Jeff Garcia, Nicholas McKay

Year: 2006

Runtime: 108 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: US


EIFF 2015

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