HAPPY FEET is being advertised as a quasi-Disneyesque animated
  movie about the adorable flightless birds who waddled home with an
  Academy Award for Best Documentary of 2005. While it is true that some
  of those qualities are in force, the film also has a darker undertone
  as befitting of the man who directed the apocalyptic
MAD MAX.

          To be quite honest, part of my disenchantment with this movie
  stems from the viewing experience. I've become accustomed to the
  anti-piracy security and the hoops one has to go through to get into
  a screening (it's part of the job), but there remains these inane
  gradations of "notoriety" that determine where one sits in the theater.
  Usually, the studio p.r. flacks will have roped off areas for the "name"
  critics. (Getting a seat in that area is akin to being allowed into a
  top nightclub -- only you really cannot bribe the young men and women
  who guard the seats in the way you might slip a $50 to a doorman.)
  I guess I was also of suspicion because I was one of the few people
  who arrived for the screening without a small child in tow. Well, the
  kids I know have grown up and I'm not about to start hanging out
  around schools or playgrounds -- we know where that may lead. (See
  
SAY UNCLE, if you have any questions.) Since I was denied a seat in
  the non-roped off area at the back of the theater (most of which, I
  noted were empty as the lights dimmed), I ended up near the front
  of the theater. While waiting what seemed an eternity, I made a
  very dumb mistake. I took out my cellphone to glance at the time
  and had three guards descend on me like a swat team, barking how
  I had to turn the phone off during the movie. Mind you, there were
  at least 15 minutes more before the picture was to start. Of course,
  not 30 seconds later, a man three rows in front of me started sending
  text messages and a woman two rows in front of me was speaking
  loudly on her cell to her husband giving him the kids' concession stand
  orders and alerting him to her whereabouts in the theater. They were
  allowed to do so with no intervention. So by the time the movie did
  start, I was not a happy camper.

          If
HAPPY FEET had been a more enjoyable movie experience,
  I might have been able to put aside all my frustrations. (I had had
  a similarly horrible waiting experience for last year's screening of
  
RENT, which I was all set to hate and which I ended up liking a lot
  more than most other reviewers.) One of the problems I had with this
  movie was that I felt I had already seen the first section. While it
  is true that
HAPPY FEET was in production for years before
  
THE MARCH OF THE PENGUINS, it has the distinction of following
  it into theaters. (Not unlike the situation with
CAPOTE and this year's
  
INFAMOUS; it's a question of whoever gets there first seems to win.)
  From what I've read,
PENGUINS mirrored HAPPY FEET in its original
  version that played at Sundance: there were voiceovers to create
  characters and even a love story. All of that was jettisoned for a more
  straightforward approach which proved more palatable to American
  audiences.

          Yes in this film the mating ritual has an added layer --
  each penguin couple has an individual "heartsong" -- in the case of
  Norma Jean (Nicole Kidman) and Memphis (Hugh Jackman), it's Prince's
  "Kiss," albeit with altered lyrics. They go through the routine, she
  lays the egg and passes it the dad while she heads off to fish.
  There's a mishap (that if you saw the documentary you know would
  probably result in something more dramatic than what occurs in this
  film), but since it is aimed in part at young children, the egg survives.
  But it hatches slower than the others and what emerges isn't quite
  like the others. Mumble (EG Dailey as a child; Elijah Wood as the
  grown-up) cannot sing -- but he can dance! (Thanks to Savion Glover
  and the motion capture process.)
          
          Of course, Mumble is an embarrassment to his father, who
  points out that dancing "just ain't penguin," while his mother is more
  accepting. The grown version of Mumble also looks different from the
  rest of the flock -- he's retained his grey coat and has Wood's bright
  blue eyes while the others are brown-eyed. Now lest you think that this
  is going to devolve into a Mumble is different, therefore he must be
  gay thing -- well, nope. Someone might be able to read that into
  the film, but he is given a soul mate -- Gloria (Brittany Murphy) who
  can belt out a tune better than the others.

          There are also religious overtones that can be read into the
  story as well. Mumble is "different" and cast out of the flock where
  he travels with a band of disciples (four Adelie penguins who
  unaccountably speak with Spanish accents and are lead by Ramon,
  voiced by Robin Williams), suffers for the breed, is captured and
  imprisoned and returns at the end in triumph. Any allegorical parallels
  with certain religions is I'm sure clearly coincidental.

          While banished from the tribe because he can dance but not
  sing, Mumble goes on a journey to discover why the fish are
  disappearing at an alarming rate. Along the way, he approaches
  a self-appointed guru named Lovelace, a Rockhopper penguin also
  voiced by Robin Williams, this time attempting to sound like a black
  man. I know this is a movie and all, but since Rockhoppers are
  native to Argentina, Lovelace might have had the Spanish accent, but
  what do I know? I guess all the Black and Hispanic actors in the
  industry must have been busy on other projects which is why Williams
  does double duty.

          Miller worked on the screenplay with three other writers, so
  that may account for the schizophrenic feel to the movie which
  has several apparent endings. It turns out that
HAPPY FEET also is
  meant to have a message about humans relating to the planet.
  We're polluting the oceans, destroying the food chain by overfishing
  and causing all sorts of other chaos through over development. Again,
  Al Gore and
AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH got there first. (This film
  also bears more than a passing resemblance to the festival screened
  
THE JOURNALS OF KNUD RASMUSSEN, which explored the effects of
  famine and the encroachment of the white man.)

          There are several sequences, however well animated, that
  will terrify small children, including one involving a menacing sea lion
  that one almost wishes someone would club to death, and the other
  involving a shark attack. Those scenes disturbed several young boys
  and girls who were sitting around me.

          As I've mentioned, the computer animation is extremely well
  done and very detailed. I have to wonder about the idea of interpolating
  existing songs into the score and why new ones weren't written (beyond
  the pretty but forgettable one that Prince wrote and performs over the
  closing credits). It's also no coincidence that Mumble's parents are
  named Norma Jean (that is, Marilyn Monroe, with Kidman approximating
  her kittenish purr) and Memphis (Elvis Presley, whom Hugh Jackman
  doesn't quite manage to invoke despite trying with a rendition of
  a few bars from "Heartbreak Hotel.") The best voicing of the bunch
  belongs to Elijah Wood and Brittany Murphy, who gets to demonstrate
  her terrific singing voice.

          I had wanted to like
HAPPY FEET more -- I went in expecting
  a more lighthearted piece. While Miller is to be commended for
  adding layers to the story, I do feel it went on way too long and that
  its points were hammered home. And I'm well aware I will be in the
  minority on this matter. To me, the movie just didn't coalesce and
  proved to be disappointing at best.

                          Rating:              C+
                          MPAA Rating:      PG for some mild peril and rude humor
                          Running time:     87 mins.                

                          Viewed at the AMC 34th Street Theater

          
Happy Feet
©  2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.