Australian director George Miller (Babe) helms this computer animated penguin adventure with amazing visuals and top notch, and sometimes almost unrecognizable, voice talent.
After an awkward beginning, this movie settles into a nice flow of rollercoaster-like action sequences and fantastic musical numbers, then ends with a large scale encounter.
Elijah Wood (Lord of the Rings) provides the voice for the outcast Mumble who seeks the affections of star singer Gloria, voiced by Brittany Murphy (Uptown Girls), and overall acceptance of his Emperor Penguin community.
They like to sing, but he can only dance. “Don’t ask me to change who I am because…I can’t,” says Mumbles.
Wood’s voice and character’s blue eyes echo Frodo-like similarities, but the filmmakers wisely keep the rest of the cast’s personalities in the background, so the audience keeps more focus on the story.
Nicole Kidman voices Mumble’s mother, Norma Jean, an amazing singer married to Memphis (guess who he sounds like), voiced by Hugh Jackman.
Miriam Margolyes (the Harry Potter film series) provides the voice of the singing coach Mrs. Astrakhan.
Robin Williams’ famous voice permeates three different characters including a tiny penguin named Ramon, and guru Lovelace who also narrates the story.
“This guy is so accidentally cool,” Ramon says about Mumble as they wander the arctic together with several other funny little penguins.
Hugo Weaving (The Matrix, V For Vendetta) voices one of the leader penguins named Noah while arctic bird Boss Skua, is voiced by yet another Australian actor Anthony LaPaglia (the Without a Trace television series).
Boss Skua initiates Mumbles’ life long mission to find the beings who leave strange, amazing items behind and threaten the future of the penguin population, which opens the door for a few subtle ecological and environmental themes.
Filmmakers also use the not so subtle theme of a Great Gwin/penguin God. The elders tell everyone to repent so the fish will come back as the younger penguins say that “doesn’t make any sense.”
It would’ve been better to use a lighter focus based on basic confusion and animal necessity instead of adapting God ideologies and plugging them into the animal world.
The characters have heart, but can’t produce a strong emotional connection with the audience on their own.
Appreciation for the penguins comes through great combination musical sequences, especially the Beach Boys, as young penguins take their first dive into the ocean to Queen’s “Somebody to Love”, with the Northern Lights in the background.
At times, it seems like the ideas for each sequence came before the overall story. As filmmakers thread the story together, they definitely leave some loose strands.
The movie has a few lengthy parts and Miller uses too many 360 degree shots in the beginning half to pump up the excitement level.
Still, the visuals (especially the penguin group walking against strong winds), music and animation create an entertaining experience.
Recommended with a few reservations (**1/2) and rated PG for mild peril, crude humor and song lyrics. Also showing in IMAX theaters.