Don’t be misled by the trailer for Happy Feet, which makes the new Warner Bros animated film look like Pop Idols with Penguins. In reality, the film is actually a sobering look at the social stigma of being ‘different’, and how Mankind’s gluttonous consumption of resources is affecting the world’s animal inhabitants.
This is not to say that there isn’t a lot of singing and dancing – all very entertaining and stunningly choreographed – but Happy Feet is far from the frivolous nothing its trailer makes it out to be.
Essentially the film follows the adventures of Mumble (Elijah Wood), an unusual-looking Emperor penguin who, having been dropped as an egg, is born without a ‘heart-song’ (essential to attract a mate). Tone-deaf he may be, but Mumble is one helluva tap-dancer. Unfortunately this doesn’t go down well with the community elders who consider him an aberration responsible for the penguin gods withdrawing all fish from Antarctic waters.
Mumble spends much of the film trying to solve the mystery behind the fish shortage, and in turn redeem himself in the eyes of the colony.
The children in the audience seemed to really enjoy the surprisingly tense action sequences, and humour provided by Robin Williams and his ‘posse’ of Latino penguins, who, despite being of a different species, readily embrace the dancing Mumble.
The last 20 or so minutes of the film however don’t seem to offer kids that much, as at this point the film is at its most dark and sombre, seeming to offer a commentary that will probably only register with more mature viewers (who, problematically, will probably also see through the idealistic ending).
What Happy Feet thoroughly proves is that computer animation of superior quality and, more importantly, substance and soul, is no longer simply the domain of Pixar. Happy Feet is visually stunning, with the depiction of the animals veering more into realistic territory - watch for the Killer Whales. As in Cars, the filmmakers have taken unusual subject matter (penguins aren’t known for their expansive range of motion) and pushed it to its expressive and emotional limits.
If you’re looking for a thoughtful animated movie this festive season, Happy Feet is the right choice.