Regret Waiting As Long As I Had in Getting to This One
Of all the computer animated talking animals out there these days, penguins have certainly enjoyed the limelight. Happy Feet, Penguins of Madagascar, Surfs Up, The Jungle Bunch- these are just a few of the CG films in the past few years to focus on the flightless birds of the colder climes.
Believe it or not, I was on the fence about viewing Happy Feet ever since its release back in 2006 for two key complaints that seem to follow the piece: A political agenda and enough singing to be considered borderline “musical”. Call me picky if you must but a political musical doesn’t exactly rank as the type of material to get excited about when sitting down to absorb a good CG romp. However, I am pleased to report that such concerns were greatly exaggerated. But before we get into the nitty gritty of the material itself, let’s take a moment to review the hard fact shall we?
Happy Feet was conceived as an Australian/ American collaboration directed and co-written by George Miller. It was produced at Sydney-based visual effects and animation studio Animal Logic for Warner Bros., Village Roadshow Pictures and Kingdom Feature Productions and was released in North American theaters on November 17, 2006. Warner Home Video brought the piece to the home market in March of 2007 and here we are.
The 108-minute, PG rated tale centers on a young emperor penguin named Mumble born with a singing voice only his mother could love. This would be hardly cause for concern in our society but it turns out that penguins of this sect just so happen to base their entire dating, life-mate selection on “heart song”. In other words, not being able to sing to this little guy is like trying to be a playboy in social media without Facebook.
The situation isn’t hopeless though as the lad’s got rhythm. Though dancing isn’t really common or even socially acceptable among penguin-folk, there’s change in the air. In the grand story arc, change is overdue anyway with the interaction between mankind and the wild and if tap dancing penguins is the spark that makes us collectively pay attention to the value of life on this planet, then so be it.
Of course it’s this aspect of the story most responsible for initial squawks of liberal propaganda and themes of environmentalism but in the grand scheme things there are certainly worse messages coming out of Hollywood of late. Besides, never is such ideology force-fed to you (if in doubt, pick up Animals United from Arc Entertainment to witness just how bad it can get).
This film represents the first attempt at animation from Mad Max director George Miller but boy you’d never know it by the pacing, visuals (which still look tight 7 years later) or impeccable casting
Somehow Miller manages to turn a fairly straight forward and borderline silly premise and manages to convert it into a grand and whimsical work of cinematic art. The film literally opens with photo-realistic textures of Antarctica and quickly establishes an ensemble cast that makes tagging along for the ride absolutely effortless.
At the time of its release, some critics went as far as to say this $100-mil masterpiece birthed some of the best visuals in a CG production outside of Pixar and truly how these guys managed to thread the needle between lovable characters and realistic animal models is anyone’s guess. Plus there’s an underlying tension involved in the plot reminiscent of early Disney animated films- where you almost expect tragedy in the struggle to survive in the natural world. Fortunately making you cry isn’t the prime motivation here and the ending, though a bit contrived, is certainly more about feeling good than anything else.
As for my other main concern- penguins breaking into song so frequently as to be considered a borderline musical: again, needless worry. With a soundtrack that includes everything from hip hop to disco, the musical antics are enjoyable and certainly more fun than expected.
In all, a shame I waited as long as I did to give Happy Feet a go; truly this is a piece that will resonate with viewers of all ages. Children will be mesmerized with the visuals and adults will find the plot engaging enough to tolerate, maybe even enjoy, multiple rewatchings.