U.S. Release Date: November 17, 2006
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Director: George Miller
Writer: John Collee, George Miller
Producer: Dana Goldberg (executive), George Miller
Composer: John Powell
Cast: Elijah Wood (Voice), Robin Williams (Voice), Brittany Murphy (Voice), Hugh Jackman (Voice), Nicole Kidman (Voice), Hugo Weaving (Voice), Anthony LaPaglia
Running Time: 1 hour and 48 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG (some mild peril and rude humor)

Animated Penguins Step Out of Line
by Scott Holleran

Following the short, peppy Robin Williams riff in the trailer and slotted in a year of computer-generated drivel, Happy Feet looked like a blast of cool penguins dancing to the familiar Williams routine. But Happy Feet is not a happy occasion.

Elijah Wood voices an abnormal penguin named Mumble who can't sing a note among penguins that must sing in order to mate. Mumble struggles to fit into the flock, which has its own problems. The birds, expertly animated especially in terms of movement, are losing their food source (and guess who's to blame). Each penguin has his or her own song to sing and the picture plays like a pop opera with bursts of music.

Parts of the story click and Happy Feet is visually arresting, with cover tunes appealing in a manic, Moulin Rouge! sort of way. Though he cannot sing, Mumble, aided offscreen by tap dancer Savion Glover, can dance.

This tried and true animated plot—think of Rudolph and his nose—would be sufficient for watching Mumble overcome being an outcast in song, dance and comedy, but, no, director George Miller, who did the same thing to the second Mad Max sequel, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, turns it into an overwritten, overproduced extravaganza.

The poorly paced semi-musical slips into the abyss sometime around the time that Mumble strikes out on his own, meeting up with a another flock where singing is less important. Robin Williams voices a number of characters, none of which amount to much, accounting for the usual laugh lines, which do pop up.

Mumble's dad (Hugh Jackman) is an Elvis type who urges his son to try to sing—to fit in—with a cute play on the word triumph. Had this light humor, with catchy songs, streamlined Williams stuff and cashed-in character moments like a line about goose pimples, been smoothed out across the script, it might have delivered what the charming trailer promised.

Instead, Mumble's tale turns into a surrealist fantasy (apparently, that's all the rage) with large chunks of floating abstractions about ecology, religion and, chiefly, collectivism, Happy Feet's favorite theme, which wraps the dumpy, foot-tapper in the idea that being different is acceptable—on the condition that one uses the unique quality to serve others.

Toss aside inconsistent accents—it's not clear why the 'guins are a diverse breed while elephant seals sound exclusively Australian—Nicole Kidman doing that horribly high-pitched Bewitched voice as Mumble's mother and overblown musical numbers and it's still a long way from happy.

Hugo Weaving registers as an old bird designed to teach a lesson about dogmatism but few others do, including the late Steve Irwin. What's more, in another example of the arbitrary ratings system, the Parental Guidance (PG) rating for "mild peril" is a joke. Anyone seeing this with a young child not raised on Death Premise pictures will nurse nightmares for weeks (a sea beast strikes pure horror). As usual, parents are depicted as morons.

In short, they're still doing amazing things with animation—and still coming up short of a good story to match.

The Polar Express
Ticket to Ride
Racing Stripes
Nice Station Zebra
Strong Visuals Offset Pixar’s Weak Story
Robots Lack Realism
Ice Age
Cartoonish Comedy Makes a Cool Adventure
Shark Tale
The Jawsfather