Directed by: George Miller
Premise: An animated film about a community of penguins living in the Antarctic who find their mates through song. Mumble (voice of Elijah Wood) becomes an object of ridicule when he comes of age and cannot sing but impulsively tap dances. Labeled as an outcast, Mumble is blamed for the lack of fish stocks in the local waters and he sets out on a journey to discover the truth.
What Works: Happy Feet is an amusing mix of March of the Penguins, Footloose, and Swan Lake. The animation in the film is incredible in places, particularly in the rendering of the environments. Some of the sequences and characters, such as the killer whales, look photorealistic and often complement the music sequences. The songs borrow from the stylings of Moulin Rouge! and the film is able to do quite well with this, using the songs dramatically to advance character and plot and using them for humorous purposes. Robin Williams is featured as the voice of several characters and he brings his manic energy to film, giving it a boost when the story needs it the most. His fast delivery plays on double entendres that will speak to the adults but go over the heads of most of the children in the audience.
What Doesn’t: The story of Happy Feet is muddled between two narratives. The film starts as an ugly duckling story in which Mumble attempts to resolve his differences with the community. Halfway through the film, the story abandons this narrative line and becomes a hero’s journey into the unknown. Neither one of these storylines are particularly well done because they are incomplete. The community’s acceptance of Mumble’s deviance is spontaneous and unearned and the journey that he takes does not have any trauma or revelation. The ending is a deus ex machina solution to the conflict that resolves the conflicts through a cop out rather than a dramatically sound conclusion.
Bottom Line: Happy Feet is not the best animated film to come along recently, but it is not the worst either. Adults and their children will probably enjoy the film, although some of the grownups who are not as easily amused might be a little disappointed.
Episode: #119 (November 26, 2006)