Happy Feet


Reviewed by: Tony Sullivan

Happy Feet
"A canny penguin, with the right agent, could be running United Artists in a few short years."

Mumble the Emperor Penguin carries a stigma. Where every other penguin carries a tune and must sing to find a mate, he can only dance. When the huddle's conformist leadership expels him, he must find redemption.

Wandering aimlessly, he encounters a band of hip rock-hopper penguins and is taken to see their spiritual guru, Lovelace, to find The Answer. The somewhat overweight Lovelace has other problems in the shape of piece of plastic packaging caught around his throat. Mumble undertakes to help the guru and the crew embark on a quest.

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After the huge success of March Of The Penguins, it was only a matter of time before some enterprising soul managed to find a new way to exploit the flightless fowl. That that soul turned out to be George 'Mad Max' Miller was the surprise. This makes more sense when one accepts that Mr Miller also brought us Babe, the sheep-pig movie.

The baby Mumble, voiced by Elizabeth Daily, sounds exactly like the porcine hero of the earlier film and Babe cast members Magda Szubanski and Hugo Weaving are also on board. Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman voice Mumble's conventional parents, Jackman trying inexplicably and awkwardly to sound like Elvis.

It's a hard-knock life for birds on the ice as we learnt in March Of The Penguins, and Happy Feet throws in a few more perils not thought of by that epic. Although the predatory skuas are played mostly for laughs, a fearsome leopard seal provides a genuine scare or three which may unnerve the little ones.

The opening scenes had me squirming uncomfortably with their chat of Penguin Heart songs and sappy romance - much better covered in the documentary - but things take a turn for the better with the arrival of the platoon of anarchic rock hoppers, mostly voiced by Robin Williams in faux Hispanic accent.

A word here about the action set-pieces. These feature some of the most stunning CGI animation I have ever seen, occasionally becoming photo-real, notably a blizzard sequence which provides an image as beautiful as anything David Lean might have dreamed up.

One wonders whether a different effects house did the work here as these shots seem so different in style to the rest of the feature, reminding me of Ralph Bakshi's animated Lord Of The Rings, which mixed traditional cell animation and rotoscoped live action.

Was it Sam Goldwyn who said: "Messages are for Western Union"? Well Happy Feet comes with a fool-proof pro-Earth anti-exploitation message as well as the more traditional animated 'we-all-need-to-get-along' mantra. Throw in a couple of barbs at organised religion and you realise this film is a whole delivery service.

Overall this fusion of Billy Elliot, Moulin Rouge and March Of The Penguins is a mixed bag, ranging from sentiment to action to musical and while these disparate bits don't make for a seamless whole, these flightless fowl soar high.

P.S. A canny penguin, with the right agent, could be running United Artists in a few short years.

Reviewed on: 29 Nov 2006
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Adventures of a toe-tapping penguin.
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Read more Happy Feet reviews:

Angus Wolfe Murray ****1/2
Chris ****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


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