Baby penguin Mumble (Wood) prefers dancing to singing, much to the disgust of the musical colony where he lives. As he tries to find his place and win the heart of Gloria (Brittany Murphy), he discovers something rotten at the heart of Antarctica.
For the last few years, penguins have been poised on the brink of cinematic superstardom, from their documentary blockbuster to the commando types of Madagascar.
The first 15 minutes of the movie are basically a recap of March Of The Penguins. Emperor penguins court each other by singing heartsongs to find a mate, and Kidman’s Monroe-esque Norma Jean is swept off her feet by Jackman’s down-home rendition of Heartbreak Hotel. It is a slightly odd decision to imbue this least musical of birds with a penchant for bursting into song, but the results are undeniably foot-tapping. In due course arrives the cute Mumble, a penguin who just can’t sing, but has feet faster than Michael Flatley.
Directed by Mad Max’s George Miller, Happy Feet gives even more of a romantic gloss to the penguins’ struggles but doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of Antarctic life. Once the chicks hatch, things settle briefly into the cozy musical extravaganza the trailers promised: the penguins singing out their hearts while Robin Williams pops up, Genie-like, and Mumble shuffles his feet to add some extra laughs. The movie takes a twist into much darker territory.
Overfishing, the evils of zoos and the sanctity of Antarctica are all addressed as Mumble’s quest for acceptance takes him to dangerous places. It’s such a strong message that the film was branded an “animated Inconvenient Truth”, which is hopefully a recommendation.
For sure, the hit that pork futures took after Babe is nothing in comparison to the fishfinger backlash that this invites. However, the huge shift in tone is disconcerting, and for every kid encouraged to campaign for a brighter future for penguins, there will be two who refuse ever to go back to the zoo.