Happy Feet Dances Into Audiences’ Hearts


The opening scene of the new Warner Bros. animated film “Happy Feet” shows two emperor penguins wooing each other with Prince’s “Kiss” and Elvis’ “Heartbreak Hotel.” From the start, it was obvious- this movie rocks!

Director George Miller, responsible for both adult films like “Mad Max” and family favorites like “Babe,” felt inspired by documentaries on penguins. Moved by their sense of community and their diverse mating rituals, Miller used his findings as the basis for the movie, an allegorical view of societal prejudices, peer pressure, the environment and the preservation of wildlife.

The crooners in the opening scene are Norma Jean and Memphis, voiced by Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. They are the parents of the main character, Mumble.

In a society where “the song becomes love and love becomes the egg,” Mumble struggles. Unlike everyone else, he can’t sing a note, but boy can he dance.

The elders of the community aren’t impressed with his fancy footwork. In fact, they blame him and his “happy feet” on the shortage of fish that plagues their colony. They consider him a “backslider” who must “repent” and sing like everyone else.

“We can only survive if we are in harmony,” they say.

When his parents and friends argue that Mumble’s differences can’t possibly be responsible, the main penguin elder puts his webbed foot down.

“Dissent leads to division, and division to doom,” he claims. Mumble grows up as the outcast.

Elijah Wood does the voice for the grown-up Mumble. Mumble loves Gloria, played by the multi-talented Brittany Murphy. In a classic situation of opposites attract, she’s the best singer of the group and his singing is hideous.

Even though Mumble was excluded from graduation, he still attends the graduation party. It takes place on an iceberg illuminated by the green glow of the Aurora Australis – the Southern lights. Murphy convincingly wails out a killer version of Queen’s “Somebody To Love” while all the boy penguins vie for her affections. Mumble gets a little carried away and tries “singing” along. Gloria promptly banishes him for messing with her groove.

Mumble falls asleep on his lonely iceberg with a broken heart as it floats away. He gets a rude awakening when the most viscous seal I’ve ever seen tries to eat him. He escapes, and finds himself in the company of a band of Argentinian Gilly penguins, complete with south of the border accents. Unlike his own community, they love Mumble’s tap dancing.

Robin Williams, hilarious as always, provides the voice of Ramon, one of three characters he does for the film. Ramon and his crew show Mumble the finer points of their mating rituals. The basic premise – collect as many pebbles as you can, their version of “bling bling.”

Williams also provides the funky personality for their guru, “Lovelace.” Imagine Barry White in penguin garb. He has a plastic six-pack ring stuck around his neck, which he claims “aliens” bestowed upon him. He now “channels” them, offering words of wisdom in exchange for a pebble.

Lovelace describes the “aliens” (humans) as “big, ugly penguins with no feathers and fat faces.” Mumble wonders if they are responsible for the vanishing fish population. For Lovelace, finding them becomes a matter of life and death. He’s been spending too much time on the “couch of perpetual indulgence” and the plastic around his neck threatens his air supply.

A wild ride ensues that takes Mumble and his friends through dangerous waters, fighting for their lives at the hands of melting icebergs and killer whales. Mumble ends up in a zoo, and the same feet that got him banished become the salvation of his colony. As his father always said, “Triumph starts with ‘tri’ and ends with ‘umph.'”

Footage from environmentalists of their communal song and dance – think “Riverdance” meets “March of the Penguins” – leaves world powers arguing about whether they should change fishing methods.

As with most animated films these days, the overall theme appeals more to adults than kids, but the wonderful soundtrack, amazing graphics and crazy animal antics provide enough humor and drama to make “Happy Feet” a treat for all ages.

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