Happy Feet
directed by George Miller
(Warner, 2006)

Ah, finally -- a kids' movie in which the music doesn't drive me insane.

As unlikely as it sounds, Prince provides part of Happy Feet's soundtrack, and it's one of the factors that tips this extra-long movie into the category of "kid favorite" and Oscar-winner for Best Animated Feature Film.

The message is admirable: Tolerance, respect for the world and environment around you, the courage it sometimes takes to be unorthodox and a nonconformist.

But, having sat through several "family nights" when this has been the movie of choice for two 5-year-olds, I can say that the music, some astonishing animation matched with live action, voices that are spot on -- and the squad of penguins that befriends the main penguin, Mumble -- are the saving grace of Happy Feet.

The plot is all about a quest. Before Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood) is even out of his egg, he's "different." All the other emperor penguins sing with each other, but Mumble ... when he hatches late, it's feet first.

Make that tap-dancing feet first.

Mumble's ability to carry a tune is even worse than that of American Idol's Sanjaya. This causes great consternation for his father, Memphis (Elvis-voiced by Hugh Jackman) and mother Norma Jean (Marilyn Monroe-voiced by Nicole Kidman). His only friend, and not-so-secret crush, is Gloria (Brittany Murphy), whose sweet voice makes all the boy penguins swoon.

And Mumble's parents worry. Without the ability to sing, only dance, how will he find his "heartsong," the song that will lead him to a mate?

Ostracized, Mumble is the easy target when his community's supply of fish dries up. He's cast out, only to be befriended by some penguins from another community -- penguins that celebrate dance. They join him on his quest to find out where all the fish are going, following the lead of Lovelace, a Barry White-inspired guru who wears a magic necklace that even the young kids will recognize as a plastic six-pack ring.

And it's here that Happy Feet, until now a celebration of "being yourself," becomes a computer-animated Inconvenient Truth. The lightness and exuberance can't help but take a back seat to the baddie behind the missing fish -- overfishing by commercial vessels.

You can sort of hear all the plot momentum screeching to a halt.

Mumble is caught and sent to the zoo (an enjoyable send-up of 2001: A Space Odyssey), where what sets him apart in a bad way at home, makes him unique and saves him here. He does end up rescuing his community, but Happy Feet, at 108 minutes, could have been a little less heavy and still gotten its message across to its youngest fans.

review by
Jen Kopf

24 May 2008

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