It seems like virtually every animated film these days has an agenda. Is it because the genre has crossed over so successfully to adults? Or do kids really care about socio-economic issues these days at a young age? The trailers would lead one to believe that Happy Feet is just that – an endlessly “happy” film about cute, cuddly penguins who just want to have fun. Oh, those silly trailers.
After accidentally being dropped down a snowy slope while still in the egg, as well as hatching late, little Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood) is quite the unique penguin. All of the other penguins in his area have a tune and can sing beautifully. Mumble can’t sing a lick but he can tap his feet in ways that would have Gregory Hines doing a double take. As he enters his teenage years Mumble has become a full-blown outcast in a penguin society that caters to conformists only. His crush, Gloria (voiced by Brittany Murphy) even wants nothing to do with him because he is “different.” His journey for acceptance leads him to a separate penguin community, where he meets the heavily animated (no pun intended) Ramón (voiced by Robin Williams) and his wild buddies. The tides are turned, but that’s really only the half of it.
That’s right, just as the screenplay enters its third act we dive into political activism. The message: Antarctic fishermen are capturing all of the fish and penguins are starving to death. We even get animated politicians going at it in ominous, dark rooms. The logic behind this makes no sense. So, everyone can eat fish except for humans? The way in which all of this is handled by a whopping four screenwriters (including director George Miller, who exhibited a similar dark side in Babe: Pig in the City) is stunningly off-kilter and will likely alienate young viewers and parents alike.
It’s really a shame, because the animation is among the most awe-inspiring I have ever seen. Every last detail is accounted for and the film maintains a 3D-like appearance throughout. Miller directs with obvious confidence, as he shows no fear in throwing action and surprisingly intense situations at us. This movie may have more jumps than the average Japanese horror remake.
The voice talent, which contains plenty of recognizable names, is also a letdown. Robin Williams is, well, the hyper Williams we’ve come to expect. He beats out the lot easily just by showing some enthusiasm. Elijah Wood is completely flat as Mumble, so much that his animated character almost seems like a robot at times. Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman don’t fare much better as Mumble’s parents, while Brittany Murphy is passable in the thankless role of Gloria.
The world is not likely to get tired of penguins, easily one of the most fascinating and cute species on Earth, but they will likely get tired of agenda-driven animated features that mislead and lose their way. Happy Feet certainly has elements that work – the aforementioned animation as well as many of the musical numbers, even if they are overused – but taken as a whole it isn’t that happy after all.
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Length: 98 Minutes
Rating: PG for some mild peril and rude humor.
Theatrical Release: November 17, 2006
Directed by: George Miller
Written by: Warren Coleman & John Collee & George Miller & Judy Morris.
Cast: Robin Williams (voice), Hugh Jackman (voice), Elijah Wood (voice), Nicole Kidman (voice), Brittany Murphy (voice), Hugo Weaving (voice)