Directed by George Miller
Produced by Bill Miller, Doug Mitchell and George Miller
Written by Warren Coleman, John Collee, George Miller and Judy Morris
Patricia and I are on vacation in Florida and we head to the movie theatre to watch a movie. We get there too late to see to “A Night At The Museum” which is the movie she wanted to see. So see asks me what do I want to see. I say without hesitation: HAPPY FEET. She asks me what the movie is about. I say: “it’s got tap dancing penguins. What more do I have to tell you?”
Patricia gives me The Look. It’s The Look I’ve learned to read well after more than 20 years of marriage. It’s The Look that plainly says: You Have To Be Absolutely Crazy To Think I Want To See This Movie. But Patricia has grown to trust my judgment and we buy our tickets and go in. It also helps that this movie is being shown in an IMAX theatre and Patricia has never before seen an IMAX movie. Fifteen minutes into the movie Patricia is jumping and bouncing in her seat as she’s watching the first big production number where the penguins are singing a mash of Prince’s “Kiss” and “Heartbreak Hotel” and I’m watching with a big you-know-what-grin on my mug. She was sold on the movie and so were most of the other adults in the theatre.
If HAPPY FEET has a flaw it’s the same one that I’ve seen in most recent animated movies: they’re not really made for kids. They’re made for adults. HAPPY FEET has so many references to musicals and pop culture of the past 20 years that I don’t think kids under the age of 15 really are going to get a lot out of it. Let’s face it, how many 15 year olds are going to get the joke out of a bunch of penguins doing a huge production number of Queen’s “Somebody To Love”? In the showing Patricia and I attended, the adults were laughing uproariously during the movie and during the show stopping song-and-dance numbers they were clapping and singing along but their kids were plainly bored and wondering what all the fuss about. And while the dazzling animation was more than enough to keep me glued to the screen I always was aware that it was far too realistic for the kiddies.
HAPPY FEET tells the story of Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood) who is the son of Memphis (Hugh Jackman) and Norma Jean (Nicole Kidman) two Emperor Penguins with remarkable singing voices. Among their tribe of penguins it’s of paramount importance that a penguin be able to sing since that is how they find their mate for life. The problem is that Mumble can’t sing. And that’s an understatement. Mumble sings about as well as a pig can pass for beef. And no matter what his distraught parents do, Mumble can’t carry a tune even he had a bucket.
But Mumble can dance his feet off. In fact, his song is in his feet. And in one incredible dance sequence after another Mumble proves that he can dance like no other penguin has ever been able to. But it’s still not enough to win the love of Gloria (Brittany Murphy) and Mumble is even driven into exile due to what is perceived by the elders of his tribe as an ‘abnormality’. But Mumble isn’t alone for long. He meets up with another tribe of penguins and makes friends with Ramon (Robin Williams) and his wacky crew who look upon Mumble’s gift at tap dancing as absolutely astounding. Mumble makes his way back to his tribe to try and claim his true love but is again cast out. The Elder of The Tribe (Hugo Weaving) claims that Mumble’s heretical tap dancing ways have brought a curse on the tribe that has driven away the tribe’s fish supply they depend on to sustain them through the winter. Mumble insists that this isn’t so and he knows what has driven away the fish: a mystical tribe known as Humans. Mumble sets out on a quest to ask the Humans to stop taking their fish. His only companions on this quest are Ramon and his wacky crew, a half crazed penguin seer named Lovelace (Robin Williams) and his only means of communication: his crazy tap dancin’ penguin feet.
I’m not going to hard sell you guys on this one: I totally loved HAPPY FEET. Call me crazy if you want to but I got a rush out of seeing Gloria singing “Someone To Love” backed up by a full chorus of penguins and the big showstopper for me was when the penguins sang and danced “Boogie Wonderland” led by Mumble. One of the funniest moments in the movie is when Mumble encounters Ramon and they return to his tribe who apparently have all somehow seen “West Side Story” one too many times.
The astounding tap dancing sequences performed by Mumble were choreographed by Savion Glover who wore a motion capture suit and did all the dance steps which were then transferred by digital magic to the body of the penguin we see on screen and I’m telling you, it’s wonderful. Through the remarkable digital technology available to movies nowadays, Mumble comes across as an extraordinary dancer and it’s really fun to see him strut his stuff. I defy you not to want to get up and boogie with Mumble when he gets down offa Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish”.
The CGI work is absolutely amazing. There are many sequences in this movie where I actually thought I was looking at actual arctic landscapes. You look at the penguins and each individual hair on their pelts is blowing in different ways from cross breezes and you wonder at how insane the animators must be to have paid attention to that much detail. And then you may want to wonder how insane you are to have paid that much attention to how much attention they paid. I liked how the animators gave Mumble a bit of a different look from the rest of the penguins by having a bow-tie shaped shading on his fur at the base of his neck, further lending to what I like to think is a homage to 30’s hoofers like Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly.
So should you see HAPPY FEET? Absolutely. If you’re an adult. I really don’t think kids are going to get much out of this movie. There are far too many references to movies that kids haven’t seen or won’t get. And the choice of songs isn’t from their generation. We’re talking about pop and R& B songs from 20 years ago and kids today simply don’t see the joke in penguins singing Prince’s “Kiss” or Chaka Khan’s “Tell Me Something Good”. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t expose them to it. HAPPY FEET is a wonderful movie with dazzling animation, great music and professional voice work by Robin Williams, Elijah Wood, Hug Jackman and Nicole Kidman. Don’t feel you have to take a kid along to see it. But if you do, make sure you give ‘em a crash course in R&B of the past 20 years first.