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Movie Review: Happy Feet

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I remember when I saw the first teaser trailer for this. It was around the time that March of the Penguins had its mainstream success; it showed that a movie about penguins could be heartwarming and bring the people out in droves. Someone then got the idea that if they animated the story, added a little music, and a manic Robin Williams, you could have another hit. Happy Feet was born. Now, it is my understanding that Happy Feet was in production prior to the success of March, so I guess everything is in the timing.

As the release of the latest animated feature approached and more footage was released, it looked like it was going to be a fun little movie. Cute penguins, singing and dancing, all with celebrity voices — how could you go wrong? What I didn't count on was just quite how enjoyable it would be.

Happy Feet is the story of Mumble. He is a little different than the other Emperor penguins. You see, Mumble can't sing. At the core of the society is the heartsong, the song that each penguin finds inside him or herself that they use to attract a mate. Rather than song, Mumble's heart is expressed through dance, and boy, can he dance. Unfortunately, his lack of singing ability proves to be an embarrassment to his father and he finds himself ostracized from society. To top things off, there is a shortage of fish, and Mumble's differences lead him to be blamed for this lack of food.

What follows Mumble's exile is an epic journey, a journey to find himself, find the food, and win the heart of the penguin he loves. The story elements are nothing new — coming of age, fish out of water, ugly duckling, man versus environment, they have all been done before. What makes Happy Feet stand out is the infectious enthusiasm that has been stitched inside the cliches. The familiar songs, the big dance numbers, the adorable characters, and the wacky humor provided primarily by Robin William's Ramon character all add to the fun factor.

Where the movie really succeeds is in its blending of societal/environmental concerns in a way that feels genuine, yet never becomes preachy. It balances the serious undertones by giving us characters that are colorful and engaging and, for the most part, realized in a manner that draws you into their world.

George Miller makes his first foray into the animated world in impressive fashion. He has made a film that is equal parts family-safe weekend afternoon entertainment and slightly more subversive tale that takes a shot at conformity and organized religion and gives a new perspective on eco-horror. Fascinating to say the least, the penguin tale offers up considerably more than what it appears to be.

The penguin society places a high value on conformity — fall in line and have faith that all will be provided for by the Great Guin. Then Mumble comes along, a character who is different from the rest, a penguin who chooses not to fall in line with what society expects of him. For his decision, he is kicked out of the society. It is a decision that sends our plucky young hero on a journey that introduces him to another society, one that places value on the individual. It is an eye opening trip that leads him to bring his newfound sense of worth home, where he is still not welcome for not falling in line.

In the end, all is well with the world of the penguins. Lessons are learned about how individuality can be a good thing and how over-fishing the Antarctic is bad. Wrapped around the lessons are tightly choreographed dance numbers, dizzying action, and an icy world barely contained on the widescreen frame.

There is something that is strikingly original about this effort; it has a unique take on the direction and stylistic choices when compared to other computer animated films of the year. It is one of the most visually striking — the constantly moving camera, the expansive view of the ice, and those great action sequences — nothing touches the film in those respects. Plus, we get a good voice performance from Robin Williams. It seems that the reins were held and he was kept focused on the task at hand, unlike the free-rein mess that characterized his work in Robots.

Bottom line. Happy Feet will put a smile on your face, a song in your heart, and will actually stick with you long after your child tires of tapping his toes. It delivered more than I expected, it was a fun experience on the big screen and proves that George Miller is still as inventive as he was when he brought Max Rockatansky to the big screen so many years ago.

Highly Recommended.

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  • connor

    Happy feet is AUSOME!!!!!

  • visitor

    It was truly propaganda, and I felt disgusted throughout the second half of the movie.
    I can’t believe that some people do praise this movie as “year’s best animated film.”
    Also, it was insulting toward Hispanics/Latinos since it was making fun of their way of speaking English as well as generalizing the population.

    Indeed, ‘Happy Feet’ is the most biased, narrow-minded, and shameful movie I’ve ever seen.

  • pretty in pinkster

    i haver a question.

    in happy feet they talk about a heartsong…

    has anyone thought about whether or not that relates to the late Mattie J.T. Stepanek, a young poet/peacemaker who died a few years ago of a neuromuscular disease called Muscular Dystrophy (he was actually a friend of my sister’s).

    he wrote books called heartsongs, because he believed everyone had a heartsong that was who they truly were.

  • Chris Beaumont

    Couldn’t say, pinkster. But, it would not surprise me.

  • jaclande

    This movie was so offensive to me that I walked out on the last 20 minutes of it. My husband and I took our 3 children and a cousin to see what we expected to be a cute, entertaining children’s film. The whole point of creating this movie, in my opinion, was to convey a liberal political message, through our most vulnerable, impressionable audience–our children. Christians were attacked throughout this film, from protraying the penguin “elders” as condemning religious leaders who quoted bible verses and a “televangilist”-like leader who blasphemed Scripture, speaking of “Going forth and multiplying”, then taking several female penguins out of sight to “have pleasure” on his couch, asking, “who will be first?”. Mumble, the main character, decides to find out who the “aliens” are and ask them to stop taking the penguins’ food supply, fish. The “aliens”, who are clearly definied as human beings, are protrayed as evil, uncaring, scary, pollutive and destructive. As Mumble crests a hill looking for signs of “alien” life, the first structure that is shown is a church. Sexual innunendo is all over this movie, as male penquins frequently try to “get laid” and sing offensive secular songs that I don’t let my children listen to, such as, Salt ‘n Peppa’s “Let’s talk about sex baby” as well as Prince’s “Kiss” and others. Mumble’s parents are basically Marilyn Monroe and Elvis personified, and very “sexual” in their speaking and body movements. Mumble’s penguin friends are very sexual when speaking about getting femle penguins, at times thrusting their pelvis’ when speaking about how “hot” and desirable they are. There are two very scary and violent scenes, including one very graphic one where a very evil-looking leopard seal chases after and almost attacks Mumble and his friends, and another scene where they are chased by killer whales. My 5-year-old step-daughter covered her eyes in terror during both scenes. Zoos and animal aquariums, which are excellent family places for children to learn about animals, are shown as scary and prison-like, and are offensively compared to “Heaven” by Mumble. If all of these elements don’t offend you, let me tell you that the movie as a whole was not very entertaining. I guess I’m spoiled by all the Disney/Pixar films, who write all their own music and lyrics. This film’s producers could not even take the time to do that, intent as they were to convey their negative environmental message. This film is deceptively packaged in excellent special effects, cute penguin dancing and star character voices (Elijah Wood, Nicole Kidman, among others), but is inappropriate for all children, and adults really shouldn’t waste their time on it either. Protect your children from it’s negative, Anti-Christian messages by not taking them, not buying the DVD, and telling other parents about this film!

  • M16_Gurl

    I love this movie. Especially the leopard seal. He’s my all time fav character!!!! He’s awesome. And I like the lines he says. He’s funny.

    I made a fanfiction mainly about him and I posted it on my website. And he sound so familiar. I just can’t point it out…..

    Ramon is awesome too. There’s never a dull moment when he’s around.

    And I understand the message and I care very much for the environment.

    Anywho, this is a must-see movie. Though not exactly child friendly with all the……inappropriate songs. But it’s still very good and hilarious.

  • DJF

    I’ll tell you – people never cease to amaze me. I took my 5 year old to see it, and she loved it. I’ll admit, there were a few overly scary moments and sexual innuendo that really didn’t need to be there – but give me a break. For those who think this was some kind of eco-terror film – have you ever seen a fish with a six pack ring stuck in it’s gills with tumors growing all over it? I have. And in my mind- the person who threw it in the ocean IS evil (especially from that fish’s point of view). I say kudos to anyone bringing our children’s attention to this.

    This was a great film. It was entertaining and made my child use her brain. I applaud it.

  • Meels

    I loved it!!! And if i had kids, i’d take them to see it too! Even though i’m a devout christian myself (on my own part..not becaus i was brought up that way) i wasn’t the least bit offended!
    Though there was an occasional sexual discourse, i would certainly like to think that a 5 year old would not pick up on something as subtle as that, and just enjoy the songs and dance routines.
    The end of the movie portrays humans as kind and caring, as once they saw what they were doing to the eco-system- they stopped (which is if you ask me, a pretty generous portrayal) and even mumble accepted that they weren’t evil when he said something along the lines of “We just need out fish, i’m sure you don’t mean to hurt us”. The elders were also not seen as “the baddies” as they were open and accepting of the change that dancing can be good, and mumble is not the cause of the famine.
    I think it’s an excellent film, and if you really want to tear it to bits and over anylise everything, how about focusing on the discourses (which encompass christian values) such as: accepting ones differences, embracing multi culturism, being open to ‘right ones wrongs’, forgiveness and family.
    I thought it was very clever, and i’d reccommend it to any one of any age, race, religion looking for a feel good film.

  • Victor Plenty

    Good to see at least one avowed Christian who hasn’t joined the War on Happy Feet.

  • pj

    People who are so completely closed-minded that they didn’t even stay until the end of the movie should keep their comments about the “message” of this film to themselves.
    The songs used in the movie were not offensive or obscene, and can be found on almost any radio station or tv channel in North America. We have just entered 2007, and it seems like these people have yet to enter the 1960’s. The medleys of songs were seamed together in an entertaining and flawless way, and original music was unneccessary.
    This movie was clever, cute, fun & had a GREAT MESSAGE! Partly, that human beings need to stop being so selfish & arrogent, and realize that our actions affect so much more than just ourselves. Not only that, it teaches our kids that we should accept others who are different and try to see the good in everyone. The world would be a better place, don’t you agree?
    I agree that the seal in this movie was uneccessarily scary, but was meant to be seen from the eyes of a penguin. (I’d be terrified of someone who was trying to hunt & kill me, wouldn’t you?) However, Please note the warnings on films before you take your children to see them. This movie is blatently marked with a “may frighten young children” label. Shouldn’t that have sent up a red flag? If your children are sensitive, as many kids are, then don’t knowingly put them in situations where they may be traumatised.
    This movie has a socially, & environmentally conscious message, and the only religious people that are metaphorically “attacked” are the kind who are overly self-righteous and don’t follow the true ideals behind Christianity.

  • Cody

    I have heard a great deal on the subject of its anti Christian message. I am a Christian myself and would like to say that it is only those who take it to the extremes that are attacking it for that. Seriously, I didn’t feel insulted, I didn’t see any anti Christian things in it at all. As a matter of fact I think it brought out a lot of good points. We ARE destroying the wild and oceans. We ARE to blame for these problems, so I think we do deserve that slap in the face to teach are kids about pollution. I think that it was a fantastic movie. The animation made it look so real. I must say that they taught some good things to kids. Sure there were some edgy things in it but what’s new. They call it PG for a reason. Seriously anyone who felt insulted by the movie or did not like it needs to settle down. Go and attack some movie like SEVEN or Apocalypto.

    I think the movie deserves a 9 out of 10

  • alix

    i looved it ity was brilliant i took my cousion to see it there was some bits rude but i loved them

  • Maddie

    Someone commented earlier about how they were wondering if this movie reminded anyone of Mattie J.T. Stepanek. He devoted his life to spreading the message and meanaing of finding one’s hearsong. I was greatly moved by Mattie’s short but meaningful life and have since decided to devote my life to helping those with neuromuscular diseases because of him. So, when I first watched this movie it brought me to tears to see that Mattie’s message is spreading. I do agree that parts of this movie could be considered offensive, but I feel the overall message is what it was meant to be, and encompasses well what Mattie set out to teach.

  • Rambie

    I found this movie to be just as entertaining and cute as I expected it to be – our more cynical-minded oldsters will recognize the cliches, but every generation needs its “be yourself, blablabla” movie, and, as far as those types of kids movies go, this one has to be the best one I’ve seen so far. Tap-dancing penguins – you can’t go wrong with that, no matter how you try to twist it.

    The negative portrayal of narrow-minded religious individuals was a plus for me, and even after I stop being entertained by the actual movie, all I have to do is hop on the internet to see a bunch of stuffy, blustering bible-humpers ranting about the movie and how it’s converting their children into a bunch of satanists and traumatizing them with a few chase scenes.

    The entertainment was instantly renewed, and I got a few chuckles at a moron’s expense. Remove the steel pole from your anus, please. Your precious little angel will live.

  • Taylor W

    IS mattie stepanek’s heartsongs the reason for the use of heartsongs in this movie? I was just writing my speech about him. I happened to have seen the movie the other day with my family. As i was reading his poetry it struck me. Heartsongs. Please this would be a great opener for my speech if someone would help me out.

    Thank You!

  • poiklpi

    some people are only seeing the extremes. but there are even deeper reasons. one of the poems quotes scripture from the bible. he talks about their “god saying “he giveth and he taketh away(Job 1:21) plus at the end of the movie they seem to be singing hymns. and the top penguin says they should “repent” to the god so they would give them fish. near the middle, mumble blatently looks at a church and leaves uncomfortably. why would they have that in the movie? what possible reason could they have to put a church in the movie? they are making Christianity sound stupid! in the end, they all abandon their god and go to relying on themselves. i am not a strict fundamentalist Christian at all. i enjoyed the penguins, it had a great soundtrack, and it was hilarious, but one cant deny that there is a not so subtle message going on. people are saying the message isnt “anti-Christianity, it’s that humans are destroying their natural habitat. that is the theme! they say. but like a book, movies can have more than one theme. i am only 15 and i can see what’s going on.

  • poiklpi

    btw, i hate to say it but i sort of agree with Rambie. although this movie has subtle anti-Christian messages, some people are taking it way to far! their kids probably will only see the funny movie. i highly doubt that they will become atheist from seing a childrens movie.

    P.S to meels, they don’t seem to be attacking different cultures as much as attacking Christianity. if they were talking about accepting different cultures how come they single out Christianity?

  • Movie Props

    I agree with what you wrote. They really pounced on religion in Happy Feet. The first half was ok, but then it was insulting. Nice blog.

  • Jeff Baugh

    Oh noes! God forbid we atheists get a message into a children’s film, like you guys have been doing for the LAST CENTURY!


  • Leanna

    This movie is a sugar coated pill. If you don’t agree, then your filters are probably clogged with a postmodern view and are not showing what the movie truly means. These kinds of viewpoints are prevalent in our culture and are seeping into our lives in ways that we are unaware. Our values and beliefs are molded by what we put into our minds, no matter the source. If you let your kids watch this, just thinking that the sexual and anti-Christian innuendos will go over their heads, you are shaping both yours and their world views out of ignorance.

  • Norah Cairns

    I loved the movie! The leapord seal was funny. Creepy…but funny… The amigos were the best characters!

  • Nikki

    Oh no. The Christians will continue to throw in their religious connotations into every movie they can, but if an atheist wants to get a word in its ‘offensive’.

    Did anyone ever notice that Mumbles, an Atheist, was still pure at heart and was a genuinely good being?

    Obviously not, because those without a ‘God’ to keep them in line cannot be morally good.

  • Hannah

    Oh come off it all you people that think this is a horrible christian rascist film. i think this film was amazing , i had a laugh and felt it was educational as well. Do you think if it was horrible and bad they would show it in schools for english so that we can do film reviews. this film was a great laugh you people must go looking for stuff wrong in films if you picked out peety stuff like that.

  • theresa

    anybody that is looking at the negatives of this film, probably sees everything as negative. At least I look at the positives. This movie had good graphics and cudley charaacters! Yes, there are a gew nagative characters, but there are good ones too. You should be proud that there was good music and dancing! I mean, come on! Replacing dancing penguinswith dancing Chipmunks or hippos just doesn’t do good.