“I’m being Sponan-u-ous!”
There are very few movies like Happy Feet. When it came out, I remember people saying mixed things about it: it was cute, it was funny, the penguins were great, the music was weird, the premise was weird. I could go on and on about what people said about this movie. Strangely, no one had the same reaction I did upon first viewing it, which was… “what??? That isn’t what the trailer said it would be about!!”
To be fair, the trailer was just a cutesy little penguin tap-dancing around set to some pop song. I thought it was going to be adorable. I figured, ok, this is going to be a movie about a cute little penguin who tap dances and maybe he’ll go on an adventure with his penguin friends and learn something about himself and fall in love and… well, you know, like other animated movies. Like a disney movie. We’d learn some cute lesson about being yourself, and everything would be happy by the end.
Boy, was I wrong. There are very few movies that I have seen in the theaters early enough that the ending/plot wasn’t told to me before hand (this will pop up later in at least one other review…). Happy Feet was one of them. I saw it pretty much opening weekend. And, uh… my reactions are mixed. I’m going to go into great detail about the plot, because these are where most of my issues lie.
Here we go: need I say that if you haven’t seen it and for some reason have been laying under a rock the last 10 years… *spoilers ahead*.
So the movie DOES start out like I thought. Well, kinda. Actually, it starts with Nicole Kidman penguin (Norma Jean) singing Prince’s “Kiss” while looking for her mate. There’s only just one, and their songs supposedly fit together. Enter Hugh Jackman Penguin (Memphia), singing Elvis. They fall in love, and the first 15 minutes are very “March of the Penguins.” In that aspect, it’s good. It’s very biologically correct… except the transfer of the egg from mommy to daddy – real penguins don’t let the egg touch the ice. 2 seconds and that baby is dead and the egg is completely frozen. Yeah. Guess they didn’t do TOO much research on this…
Anyway, the baby hatches in the spring and we get Tommy Pickles Penguin (seriously, he’s voiced by E.G Dailey, who did Tommy from Rugrats). Actually his name is Mumble, a name not picked out by his parents, but by a fellow penguin chick named Gloria. But Mumble is… different. Instead of being able to sing, he tap-dances. Awww, it’s so cute! And honestly, it is. Except he’s not a proper penguin, because proper penguins sing! So in other words, he’s like that kid at school who’s super awkward and can’t do anything right. He’s also blamed by the penguin elders for the fish shortage and is sort of an outcast. Yeah. More on that later.
After he grows up and heads out to sea for the first time, this is where things get interesting. He almost gets attacked by a leopard seal and meets 4 Adelie penguins, who take Mumble to their culture. These guys actually like his dancing, and upon seeing a few weird things (like a bulldozer) mumble decides to figure out why the fish have disappeared. The Adelie penguins take him to see Lovelace, a rockhopper penguin who supposedly can speak to the Gods through… yeah… a 6-ring soda plastic holder stuck around his neck. He is no help, and Mumble and his new friends decide to head back to Emperor land because it’s mating season.
We get some more stuff with the emperors, mumble is called an abomination along with his “foreign” friends, and they decide to go and figure out more stuff with why the fish have been disappearing. Eventually Lovelace joins them, the ring finally choking him. He leads them to where he found it, which looks like a whaling camp, where they get attacked by Killer whales. They get out of it and eventually find the boats that are taking the fish. Mumble goes after them, disappearing from antarctica and washing up on shore in (presumably) australia or New Zealand.
This is where this movie SERIOUSLY changes. Really, I feel like this is two movies. The stuff in antarctica which is cute and mysterious, then there’s this. Oh. My. God. It’s like someone took a hammer and pounded you into the ground. Mumble wakes up in a zoo and sees humans, who are the people who are stealing the fish (overfishing). From his perspective, which this movie is told, he literally goes insane in the zoo. Obviously he’s just being nursed back to health but yeah… in case you didn’t realize it, very liberal die hard environmentalists made this movie.
The end is happy though, as Mumble is released with a tracker on his back so that the scientists can follow him and get the boats to leave the fish alone. Oh and mumble and gloria get together. Because didn’t you see that coming? Actually you do, but I didn’t mention much about the love story, because there’s just so much more…
Now to my thoughts: I feel like this movie is trying too hard to do too much. It’s trying to be an environmental tale. It’s trying to be a “be yourself” tale. It’s trying to be a “change can be good” tale. It’s trying to be all those plus a kids movie, a drama, a comedy, and a musical. Some of it really works, some of it is ok, and some of it seriously rubs me the wrong way. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for saving the environment, but the lengths this movie went through are a bit drastic.
It’s told through the perspective of the penguins so I get it, but this joke is a good example: they get to where Lovelace got his 6-ring stuck around his head, and as he points to the water, littered with more of them, one of the Adelie penguins goes “Look, we can each have one!” It’s funny…. But not. Not really. Actually, it’s morbid. Which I know is what they were going for, but I dunno. Not my cup of tea.
As a “be yourself” tale, this movie really works. I actually adore the idea that every penguin has its own song, and finding the one that goes with you is the way you find your soul mate. I love mumble doing his thing and dancing to express his feelings instead of singing. I love that one of his parents embraces it and the other doesn’t. I loved trying to get him to sing and it not working. I loved that the kids made fun of him but Gloria somehow always understood him. I love that in the end his father understands how he was wrong to be so hard on his son and that maybe dancing IS something that emperor penguins can do. Honestly, if the movie had focused on this, I would have been much happier.
Those few things listed above, as well as the synopsis I gave is pretty much what a kid would get out of it. Taking the penguins’ fish is bad, we shouldn’t litter, and it’s important to be yourself. But there is SO much more going on in this movie that it really is quite brilliant, even if it is all over the place. Like An American Tale, Happy Feet is an Allegory. It is the politics of the world played out between penguins, seals, and people. There’s class structure and racism.
The emperors are America. Here, the older generation are the ones who make the rules, and anything that challenges those rules is deemed irresponsible and must be stopped (aka: mumble and his tap dancing… especially when he gets the other penguins to do it: scandalous!). They believe that praying will bring the fish back and that this is just something that has happened because they haven’t been as “good” and repentant as they could have been.
When Mumble meets up with Adelie penguins, their world is quite easily recognized as Latin America. I mean, we have penguins who speak spanish and sing “mambo.” They enjoy dancing and singing, and know there is a shortage of fish but don’t know what to do to get it back – they ask their guru for help. I don’t know what this suggests the filmmakers thought of latin America, but sure… it works. They are called “filthy” and “uncivilized” by the Emperor elders. Racism in action kids. That older generation… they just can’t accept anything different or new, can they?
The leopard seal is russian, the elephant seals are australian, and the Skuas seem to be from New York City. We don’t see much of them, but it just lends to a more complete world. The elephant seals don’t want to get involved (wonder what that means…?), the Skuas say they were abducted by Aliens (people)… you know, those New Yorkers are crazy… and the leopard seal tries to eat the penguins (hmmm, I thought the cold war was over…).
Sometimes the political and religious overtones are a bit much, at least to an adult. I don’t think an elementary age kid would notice. It’s really preachy. REALLY preachy. It’s all well and good if you are liberal or an environmentalist, but if you are a conservative, I can’t even imagine how much this movie would really piss you off. Heck, I’m more liberal than a lot of people, and some of it even annoyed ME!
I DO like the music, I do like the characters, I do like the fact that a lot of the stuff that was animated was realistic. The way the adelies walked. The greeting the emperors give each other. The way the killer whales played with their food before eating it. That’s all done right. But oh lord, do I have to bring up the passing the egg with it touching the ice again?? DO YOUR RESEARCH THE WHOLE WAY. Dang liberals trying to push their environmentalism on us…. *sarcasm* kinda….
A little bit about the characters, because I do like them. Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood) is really enjoyable. He’s sweet and humble, has a good heart, isn’t afraid to voice his mind and is willing to die to get to the bottom of the whole fish disappearing thing. Gloria (voiced by Brittany Murphy) is also enjoyable. You can tell throughout the movie that she really is mumble’s other half, she just has to come to terms with it. She’s not treated very well by him at one point (even though he thinks its for her own good) but manages to forgive him. Norma Jean and Memphis, Mumble’s parents, are supposedly based on Marilyn Monroe and Elvis, which actually knowing that makes them more tolerable. Otherwise Norma Jean is just… annoying. Ramon and the other Adelie penguins are fun (they’re mainly there for humor), and Lovelace is ok. He doesn’t have much speaking parts, seeing as he’s choking for most of the movie…
All in all, Happy Feet (2006) IS an ok movie. Just be warned it’s really in your face, preachy, and I can see why a lot of people don’t like this movie. But at the same time, it’s unique. Penguins with heart songs and tap-dancing and being yourself and standing up to authority. What’s not to like? I just wish it didn’t change so suddenly for the last 20 minutes. Seriously.
I give Happy Feet (2006) 3 out of 5 stars. It has a few good moments, a lot of mediocre ones, and a few things that just really annoy me. If you want a good environmental tale, go for Ferngully, or wait till I review Princess Mononoke….
Next up is Surf’s up. More penguins doing weird things!