Sunday, December 8, 2013

Movie #230: Happy Feet

Happy Feet is a weird animated film about a dancing penguin, starring the voices of Elijah Wood, Brittany Murphy, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Hugo Weaving and a bunch of other people.

So! Emperor penguins, in this movie, mate by finding the penguin with a compatible "heartsong." Memphis (Jackman), for instance, sings "Heartbreak Hotel," and hooks up with Norma Jean (Kidman), who sings "Kiss." Their egg, after a harsh winter, hatches to produce Mumble (E. G. Daily as a baby, and then Wood), a little penguin who doesn't sing, just tap-dances. This, as his father says, "just ain't penguin."

And being penguin is important. The penguin leader Noah (Weaving) enforces penguin morality, which involves raising one's voice against the cold storm and giving fervent thanks to Great Guin, their penguin-god. Of course, Guin, like all gods, doesn't exist, but that doesn't stop Noah from assuming that Guin has removed the fish because of some transgression on the part of the penguin community.

As he grows up, little Mumble gets ostracized because he can't sing for shit, while his intended, Gloria (Murphy), has a gorgeous voice. After an incident with a leopard seal, Mumble meets a bunch of adelie penguins (who all speak with a Hispanic dialect; their leader is voiced by Robin Williams). He meets their guru, Lovelace (also Williams), a huge rockhopper penguin with a mystic talisman around his neck, bestowed by mystic beings (it's the plastic top to a six-pack). This makes Mumble think of a skua he met as a chick, with a plastic tag on his foot, who claimed to have been abducted by aliens.

Gaining some confidence from his friends, Mumble returns and finds that his "heartsong" (dancing) meshes with Gloria's ("Boogie Wonderland"). But then Noah shows up and blames the fish-scarcity on him (which would seem far-fetched if we didn't have similar idiots trying to blame earthquakes on gays IRL) and banishes him. Mumble resolves to find out what's going on with the fish, and embarks on a long, third-act journey that takes him to a zoo and back again.

I like this movie, but it has a weird break in the middle. The first half feels like this bright, dancing, musical, "be yourself" kind of movie with penguins, and then when Mumble leaves and dives into the ocean after the fishing boat, it takes on this dramatic, almost over-serious tone for a while (really, the rest of the movie). The voice acting is really good, even Williams (probably the most overrated voice actor ever), and the animation of all the different animals is amazing (and, in the case of the seal, kind of terrifying).

The messages of the movie - environmental conservation, acceptance of those different, not being afraid of other cultures, religion is the opiate of the penguins - are all good ones, but there are quite a few, and it's actually a little sophisticated for young kids (the appeal for the under-8s wanes at about the halfway point). That said, I like this movie, and it makes me sad to recall that two of the actors (Brittany Murphy and Steve Irwin, who plays an elephant seal) died after it was completed.

My grade: A-
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: The Hard Way