- George Miller
- Reviewed by
- José Ruiloba a.k.a. Morris
- Review date
- Wednesday, December 20, 2006
When Memphis (voice of Hugh Jackman) and Norma Jean (voice of Nicole Kidman) gave birth to Mumble (voice of Elijah Wood) they knew he was different. As he grew up, he realized he couldn’t sing, which meant he didn’t have a “heart song” and thus, according to his community, didn’t belong there. Yet Mumble had a talent: he could dance. But even his friend Gloria (voice of Brittany Murphy) couldn’t understand him, and he eventually deserted. Fortunately he found a penguin community where he was accepted and he made friends with Ramón (voice of Robin Williams) and his gang. That would not stop Mumble from wanting to return home and also from getting to the bottom of why fish were so scarce lately.
Happy Feet was directed by George Miller, who is not unfamiliar with darker children’s fare (remember the sad case of Babe: Pig in the City?). He co-wrote the screenplay with Warren Coleman, John Collee and Judy Morris. Their work and the ultimate product is a clear case of a rousing success trumpeted by some bad decisions that turn it into a disastrous mess. My heart sank and I ended up being disappointed, but the first two thirds are so undeniably good that I can’t not recommend it. That part alone is worth proclaiming this to be one of the best animated movies of the year, if not the best (it is a close call with Pixar’s Cars).
I hadn’t found so much fun and sheer energy in a movie of this kind since I don’t know when. It starts with a lively musical number and it is non-stop from there. No matter that Mumble’s story is sad for the most part, he’s surrounded by a lively environment that is able to provide huge entertainment. And when he’s doing his thing the movie soars. Comic relief is also provided all the way through, mainly in the form of Ramón, and it helps make it a greater time.
Unfortunately it all comes to an end with a rather bizarre change of tone during the last third. Sometimes sticking to convention doesn’t hurt, but Miller and his crew opted to take the tale too far. It gets into some very dark territory that feels like another movie altogether. And I’m not against adding adult stuff into kiddie fare (pretty obvious sexual innuendo is found in at least two early scenes and I actually liked it). The problem comes from wanting to say too much. The movie seems to be all about giving out the message that being different is not wrong, that you should always be yourself and that tolerance is the way to go. But that bit is partly resolved early in the proceedings, and a new message that tackles ecological issues is rather forced into the story and resolved in such a ridiculous way during the climax that I couldn’t believe my eyes. Every trace of intelligence and subtlety went down the toilet. Kids may not notice it as much, but I was astonished.
What the movie never ceases to be though is visually stunning. Miller takes advantage of what a computer-generated product can provide and his camerawork is impressive. He takes us through angles and places that would be impossible if shot in real-life. And the dynamism in the faster scenes (which include both musical numbers and dangerous chase sequences) is notorious. Watching this movie in 3-D or IMAX formats (or both) must be an unforgettable experience.
Those who might be afraid to venture into watching Happy Feet because it’s a musical should not be afraid. The music is used here like it’s never been done before, and it’s mostly composed of well-known classics such as Queen’s “Somebody to Love”, Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish”, a Beatles medley of “Golden Slumbers/The End”, Rufus and Chaka Khan’s “Tell Me Something Good”, Earth, Wind and Fire’s “Boogie Wonderland” and Prince’s “Kiss” among others. All of them sang by the actors.
Voice-work is almost uniformly good. Elijah Wood proves to be a solid lead as the voice of Mumble, while Brittany Murphy is suitably sweet as his friend Gloria. Hugh Jackman brings presence to Mumble’s father, as does Hugo Weaving to the community’s leader Noah. Robin Williams voices two characters mostly played for laughs and he sure earns them. Only weak link is Nicole Kidman as Mumble’s mother. Her voice is too thin and it made me crunch every time I heard it. There’s also a sporadic voice-over narration that I quite enjoyed.
“You did everything penguinly possible.”
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