"Happy Feet" Movie

"Happy Feet" grosses $10 million in IMAX (R) theatres (12/20/06)

"Happy Feet" Production Notes

Dancing to a Different Drummer: Review of Happy Feet

(Photo: left courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

By Madelyn Ritrosky

Penguins seem to be a favorite “poster animal” in family films.  When I recently saw Happy Feet, I was reminded of March of the Penguins.  But the similarity goes beyond the penguin stars.  Both penguin films provide stronger environmental messages than other family films like Finding Nemo or A Shark’s Tale.  And that is a good thing. 
Like plenty of other movies aimed at kids, Happy Feet offers messages about individuality, teamwork, and tolerance.  But Happy Feet weaves into these themes a message about human plundering of the seas and its effect on the food chain.

Even more impressive is that the film doesn’t stop with the negative consequences and animals having to deal with it; it actually offers a plausible remedy (within the context of the admittedly fanciful element of dancing penguins), where concerned humans take action to help wildlife.  This is more than something like Over the Hedge offers, which plays on suburban sprawl and its effects on animals, but suggests neither a solution nor concerned humans.  For my money, then, Happy Feet is a worthier project. 
The visual landscape of Happy Feet is quite stunning.  The icy beauty and harshness of Antarctica is the backdrop for hundreds and hundreds of beautiful emperor penguins – all computer-animated.  Some of the films’ images are striking, such as a penguin’s view of several male elephant seals, who fill the frame and loom like huge, blubbery mountains in a strange land at the edge of the unknown beyond.
The narrative journey is mythic, where a lone hero, outcast by his community and joined along the way by diverse others, must prove that he is, in fact, the true hero, by saving the community.  That’s where the dancing fits in – emperor penguins sing, really, but our hero, Mumble, is born a dancer.    
To keep Mumble’s individuality always visible in a sea of penguin sameness (read conformity in human society), he molts later than his cohort due to later hatching.  However, the baby feathers on his face and neck never disappeared, even at the end.  I found this disconcerting because it seemed so unrealistic that after his far-flung journey he still had baby feathers. 
Finally, as I have noted with other animated family films, the under-representation of female characters is very annoying.  Filmmakers know that half the kids watching the film will be girls.  Yet male animals always far outnumber females.  It’s not only not realistic, but it sends a troubling message to both girls and boys.  In Happy Feet, outside of – surprise – Mumble’s mother, would-be girlfriend, and singing teacher (very minor character), there are no female animals.

All animal characters encountered by Mumble – leopard seal, several elephant seals, two other types of penguins comprising six characters – are male.  All the “wise elders” in the emperor penguin community are male.  (Should I mention that the male and female penguins were drawn to roughly approximate human male and female body shapes?)
On balance, though, it’s an enjoyable film, with stunning visuals, a hopeful environmental message, solid theme of “dancing” to a different drummer, fun pop tunes, and a narrative journey that’s engaging.

  Young Seymour (voiced by CESAR FLORES) performs his Heartsong rap for his Penguin Elementary School classmates in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Village Roadshow Pictures’ comedy adventure “Happy Feet,” distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

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Open Date: November 17, 2006

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