Miller, Australia/US, 2006, 108 min
Wood (Voice), Brittany
Murphy (Voice), Hugh
Jackman (Voice) Nicole Kidman (Voice), Robin
Review by Siôn Thomas Markham
From the man who brought
us that delightful talking pig, Babe, here is an endearing
story about a "hippity-hop" tap
dancing penguin - Happy Feet.
Soon after Memphis's (Jackman) Heart-Song
courtship of Norma Jean (Kidman), the couple's egg crakes
open giving life to Mumble (Wood). Mumble, unlike all other
emperor penguins, lacks a Heart-Song and thus he can not
enchant a mate to his call. However, he does have the innate
skills of a tap dancing genius and, as his father puts
it, "it just
ain't penguin". Much to Mumbles misfortune he is rejected
by the tribe and used as a scape-goat for the fish famine
and is cast out into the wilderness to defend for himself.
This is where he meets the Amigos, lead by Ramon (Williams)
and the semi-profit/fake idol Lovelace (again Williams).
These are a different breed of Penguin. Armed now with a
new sense of purpose Mumble goes on to solve the mystery
of the food shortages and ultimately reinstates his identity
with the emperor penguin tribe.
Usually I am adverse to such cute and cuddly tripe. Just
anther excuse for an audience to be amazed at the wonder
of digital animation - what creature and/or inanimate object
will they think of next to glorify in this digital art? However,
I begrudge it to say, I found Happy Feet adorable. You will
find yourself in awe at the epic surroundings of the Antarctica
in which these lovable penguins play out their dilemma, a
setting which would inspire the most romantic of poet. You
do get the feeling that Miller wanted to explore all possible
avenues of imaginative thought of penguins living in such
hospitable, yet beautiful surroundings. Miller utilises these
surrounding to execute fun action sequences. At times I found
these sequences to be hypnotic as these penguins march in
their hordes or shoot through the ocean like a Red Arrow
plane high on speed. What made these Penguins so adorable
was the meticulous detail on the part of the digital animators.
The fur on baby Mumble, each individual penguin's eye and,
what kept me laughing all the way, their cute wobble as they
move, each individualised and leaving their own trace in
the snow. Did Miller strap a load of motion capture ping-pong
balls to herds of unsuspecting empror penguins? Maybe so,
because technically Miller and the computer wizards really
do deliver. The set-pieces are executed vividly and the camera
movements sweeps through action sequences that take the viewer
from a magnificent close-up (say of a Seal's evil eyes and
sharp teeth) to spinning through the air with Mumble. Though
at times the 360 degree camera movement was used one time
too many, making me want to find the nearest in-flight sick-bag.
And I am surprised that was the only thing that made me nauseous
given the cute and cuddly nature of of the film.
However, for all its technical amazement Happy Feet is still
a film with a story to tell. The narrative takes time to
move and Miller lingers too long in conveying back-story
and the conclusion doesn't cover all the gaps as not all
subplots have been successfully woven together. This is no
doubt due to the many grand themes Miller evidently wished
to incorporate into his film. Such themes of race, the family
unit, identity and, above all, the environment. How can you
deal with such a wide range and package them for a pre-teen
audience? You do get the impression Miller is ultimately
trying to suggest that the future of the planet is in the
hands of the children. This idea is constantly but forward
through out the film and then reinforced when the final shot
has Mumble, our hero and the kids favourite, addressing the
audience (the children) with a Superman like wink. But, for
all that, Miller has been very brave in his themes, even
if it is at the cost of the narrative at times.
This film is courageous with a big heart. Where it lacks
in depth it makes up for in its dynamic visuals and action.
Go and see it, you will enjoy.