Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Happy Feet

Happy Feet (2006)
Directed by George Miller

Happy Feet is an animated wonder about a penguin named Mumble who can't sing, but can dance up a storm. George Miller, the driving force behind the Babe (and Mad Max) movies, takes another creative step in family entertainment with this big, beautiful, music-fueled film. From his first moment alive, Mumble (voiced Elijah Wood) feels the beat and can't stop dancing. Unfortunatly, emperor penguins are all about finding their own heart song, and dancing youngste. Luckily, he bumps into little blue penguins, a Spanish-infused group (led by Robin Williams) and begins a series of adventures. Miller has an exceptional variety of entertainment, Busby Berkley musical numbers, amusement park thrills, exciting chase sequences, and even an environmental message that doesn't weigh you down. Best of all, you don't know where the movie is going in the last act, a rare occurrence these days in family entrainment. A fusion of rock songs, mashed up and otherwise are featured; this movie is as much a musical as a comedy. Mumble's solo dance to a new version of Stevie Wonder's "I Wish" by Fantasia, Patti and Yolanda may be the most joyful moment on camera in 2006.
In the great nation of Emperor Penguins, deep in Antarctica, you’re nobody unless you can sing,which is unfortunate for Mumble, who is the worst singer in the world. He is born dancing to his own tune tap dancing. Though Mumble’s mom (Norma Jean) thinks this little habit is cute, his dad, Memphis, says it “just ain’t penguin.” Besides, they both know that, without a Heartsong, Mumble may never find true love.But, his one friend, Gloria, happens to be the best singer around. Mumble and Gloria have a connection from the moment they hatch, but she struggles with his strange “hippity- hoppity” ways. Mumble is just too different,especially for Noah the Elder, the stern leader of Emperor Land, who ultimately casts him out of the community. Away from home for the first time, Mumble meets a posse of decidedly un-Emperor-like penguins--the Adelie Amigos. Led by Ramon, the Adelies instantly embrace Mumble’s cool dance moves and invite him to party with them. In Adelie Land, Mumble seeks the counsel of Lovelace the Guru, a crazy-feathered Rockhopper penguin who will answer any of life’s questions for the price of a pebble. Together with Lovelace and the Amigos, Mumble sets out across vast landscapes and, after some epic encounters, proves that by being true to yourself, you can make all the difference in the world.
Happy Feet was also meant to be a "message" film, and those can always be tricky. There are two messages here - taking care of the environment and not casting out those that are different - and yet they're handled in a truly cool way. Yes, the uberconservatives may get in a bit of a snit when they see the forces against Mumbles are cast to appear like mean-spirited religious zealots.However this is a very interesting plotpoint. Outcasts sometimes feel just that way , beat on and thrown out simply because they're running against the popular tide. And the environmental point is handled in a way non-humans would look upon it. Humans really aren't being necessarily "mean" in how they act toward animals."Humans" may be just clueless to the harm they're doing.
A top-notch voice cast helps bring this off. Elijah Wood may yet be one of the most overlooked actors in Hollywood because he's able to bring off a tender, desperate Mumbles with only his voice.If you don't give a damn about this Earth we are living on or Wildlife and/or the destruction of their habitat,maybe you should go live on another planet! It's never too early to start teaching kid's to preserve instead of trashing the world we live in.
George Miller turns such a simple throw-pillow of a plot into a vivid epic, but after doing that the movie should have wound down and gotten back in touch with the smaller moments that he used to build towards that large-scale journey the movie becomes.
The movie includes themes of humans intruding on natural habitats but avoids the heavy-duty questions of how to solve the problem. Some of the chase sequences and elephant seal scenes might be scary for younger kids. Also, racial stereotypes come into play: Latin-inspired penguins are caricatured as party-loving animals, and an African-American-type penguin comes across as an oversexed, fundamentalist preacher. Still, the movie's themes of social acceptance and embracing your own uniqueness shine through.
Voice acting is strong. Elijah Wood brings an earnestness to his portrayal of Mumbles, while Brittany Murphy is enticing as his love interest Gloria. Hugh Jackman is nearly unrecognizable as the Elvis-inspired Memphis, while Nicole Kidman brings warmth to her Norma Jean. Hugo Weaving brings menace to the intractable leader of the penguins, Noah. And Robin Williams is much more restrained than normal. He's never in a position where he overwhelms the film with one of his three voices.
We don't get to see often enough Hugh Jackman's verstility with accents, and here we are hearing him do a cross between Curly from "Oklahoma" and Elvis without it seeming forced or artificial. There are really too many performances to list, and they're all first rate.The tapdancing too is great. We only see a cartoonish replication of Savion Glover's moves, but he really sends off on sound as well. A carryover from his days on "Stomp."
George Miller and his crew spent four years working on the film; the results are, quite simply, stunning.This is an excellent animated movie, one with great performances and a vision so strong that it deserves to be mentioned right up there with the best of the computer animated medium.Happy Feet is one of the best children's films of the past 20 years.

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