There was a documentary last year which made waves both critically and at the box office. It was a celebration of nature, of life, danger, and death as seen through the eyes of Emperor Penguins in the Antarctica. If you had seen that documentary, then the first 10 minutes of Happy Feet will be familiar territory, as it probably summarized a whole lot of the mating game, into the introductory act.
Happy Feet tells the story of an offspring Emperor Penguin of Norma Jean (voiced by Nicole Kidman) and Memphis (Hugh Jackman). With that distinctive mole placement and swagger, it's actually Marilyn Monroe and Elvis done as animated feather friends, romanticizing each other and eventually have a son aptly named Mumble, born with a defect, save for those distinctively sky blue eyes of Elijah Wood. A heart song is what the Emperor Penguins use to attract their mates, but true to his namesake, Mumble can't sing for nuts and can only, surprise, tap dance, much to the chagrin of the conservative elders.
It's perhaps a given that those cute baby penguins which melted the hearts of many in March of the Penguins, get featured so prominently here in Happy Feet. Milking them for what they're worth, this movie pours in a lot more crowd favourites like dance. So you have yet another animated movie in this year's glut of offerings, in yet another movie about dance, a dash of comedy fused with familiar songs weaved together in a medley, and voila! Instant formula for success!
I must admit I was initially apprehensive that Happy Feet will be able to pull it off and had somewhat low expectations, given some mediocre Hollywood animated movies being produced. But true enough, I was sold after 10 minutes. The animation is photo-realistic, and probably is the next best thing of having being in the Antarctica, or watching the real one on screen. If the animals in the movie quit talking, you might just think that they're for real.
The characters too manage to endear themselves to you, with Robin Williams staging a coup with his voice performance of two penguin characters, one a smooth talking leader of a pack of Adelie penguins with Latino accents (their antics reminiscent of those in Madagascar, only a lot more laid back), and of a know-it-all Guru who answers any questions in exchange for pebbles. Brittany Murphy can sing too, as she lends her voice to Mumble's love interest, and THE babe of the colony, Gloria. Hugo Weaving too is in the movie, and so is the late Steve Irwin. It's no wonder that at the helm of this movie is director George Miller, also an Australian (say, there's quite a number of Australian's lending their voices here)
While it's generally a feel good movie, there's a good portion of the movie well hidden away from the trailers, in case you have the nagging misconception that there's nothing too interesting about watching a story of an underdog outcast working his way, cutting across discrimination to win the girl of his dreams. At one point, I thought the movie could have gone the way that Steven Spielberg's AI had gone, because it certainly felt that way. Also, there's a very rushed message on conservation, and in fact, the finale felt that it got truncated just to end the way it had.
Christmas season's coming, and a tale rooted in family ties, friendship, and the return of the prodigal son, makes it satisfyingly enjoyable. Parents would probably check out if the toy stores carry baby penguin plush toys. Should be a hit with the kids, after the movie.