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Feature


Emperor penguins Memphis (Hugh Jackman) and Norma Jean (Nicole Kidman) are anxiously expecting their first-born, but when he arrives their son, Mumble, isn’t quite what they expected. For hundreds of years the penguins have used their heart songs as a way to find their soul mates, but our little Mumble has a problem: he can’t sing! Instead, Mumble exhibits a talent for dancing, specifically tap dancing, but this just doesn’t sit well with the elders of the penguin community.

Happy Feet
Blamed for the famine that is threatening the colony and branded an outcast, Mumble decides to leave his family behind to discover the real cause of the fish shortage. On the way he meets a number of colourful characters including the Amigos, a quartet of Adelie penguins led by the outrageous Ramon (Robin Williams). Together they travel further than any penguin has gone before in search of the mysterious ‘aliens’ that are stealing the fish, and Mumble learns to embrace his individuality to win the heart of his own soul mate, Gloria (Brittany Murphy).

It must have been a slow year in the animated movie world, because this Oscar-winning film is decidedly average. While I’m fully aware that I’m not really the target audience for such a cutesy film, I am fully capable of judging it by the standards set by other animated efforts. Simply put, when you take Happy Feet and compare it to something like, let’s say, The Incredibles, it just doesn’t hold up. It’s as though the filmmakers couldn’t make up their minds as to what sort of film they wanted to make, so they made two and just forgot to split them up.

Happy Feet
The first seventy minutes or so are your standard animated fare, albeit incredibly longwinded and set to cheesy R&B music, while the final thirty minutes see the film morph into some kind of preachy cautionary tale about Man’s disrespect for the environment. That could have been kind of interesting, but at the last minute the filmmakers bottle it and we’re back to the stock happy ending where our anthropomorphic buddy Mumble saves the day with his mad tap dancing ‘skillz’.

I mentioned above that the film takes around seventy minutes to get going, and I wasn’t exaggerating. I understand the need to introduce the characters and set up some sort of obstacle for the protagonist to overcome, but seriously, there’s a limit to the amount of time I’m willing to give to that as a viewer. There are just too many self-indulgent song and dance numbers in this section of the film. I wouldn’t mind if they actually went somewhere or if the quality was a little higher, but they don’t and it’s not. It doesn’t help that most of the songs are simply covers, rather than original pieces composed for the film.

Happy Feet
As for the actors, well they do their best with what they’re given, but that’s about it. Wood and Murphy are fairly bland in the lead roles, while Nicole Kidman’s Marilyn Monroe impersonation had me reaching for my imaginary rifle. Robin Williams delivers his usual ‘whacky’ performance, but it’s nothing he hasn’t done before and to greater effect in Aladdin. He performs dual roles in Happy Feet, which is cause for great delight or tremendous despair, depending on your point of view. Had the dialogue been snappier and the narrative less confused things might have been better, but it seems that the filmmakers thought this one could sail by on the adorably cute penguins doing adorably cute things.
 

Video


Presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 and enhanced for 16:9 displays, Happy Feet looks very, very good indeed. The animation is simply breathtaking, with thousands of penguins littering the screen, all looking about as photo-realistic as you could want (from an animated penguin). One of the most visually impressive sequences sees Mumble and the Amigos ‘body-surfing’ over the Antarctic landscape and crashing through huge banks of snow before plummeting into the ocean, but the digital-to-digital transfer handles this with comparative ease. Obviously there are no film artefacts to contend with, but neither are there any other major issues. In fact, the only negative comments I can make relate to a little posterisation and some minor edge enhancement. Still, these ‘flaws’ weren’t particularly obvious when watching on a 32” display, and I had to examine the video closely to spot them. It seems churlish to deduct points for such minor blemishes, so I’m going to go ahead and award top marks for video.

Happy Feet

Audio


The disc features a solid Dolby Digital 5.1 EX track that takes a little time to get going, but manages a few surprises when it does. Even in the early stages everything is perfectly acceptable, with some nice discrete effects creating a generous amount of ambience (such as the chattering of penguins in the rears in large group shots). Dialogue also remains perfectly clear throughout, which is especially important in a musical, where vocals can often be drowned out. I was initially a little concerned by the relative weakness of the bass (this is a 384Kbps track), but as the film progressed the howling, all-encompassing blizzards and creaking, cracking ice flows restored my faith. It might not be reference quality stuff, but all-in-all this is a decent track.

Extras


We open with two deleted scenes, 'Mumble Meets a Blue Whale' and 'A Happy Feet Moment'. The first features a short introduction by director George Miller, in which he explains that the scene was completed for the DVD as a tribute to the late Steve Irwin, who voiced one of the characters. The second is only around thirty seconds long, and features Mumble being kicked around by another penguin. It's very odd.

Happy Feet
Next up is a featurette entitled 'Dance Like a Penguin: Stomp to the Beat'. This is hosted by Savion Glover, who acted as a dancer and co-choreographer on the film. Glover gets off to a bad start by mispronouncing the word 'especially' (sorry to be so picky, but it's a pet hate of mine), and then goes on to tell us how we can sing with our feet. Now I know this DVD is aimed at kids, but I'm pretty sure 'singing with your feet' is more commonly known as dancing. Anyway, there is around five minutes of footage of Glover tap dancing and chatting, and he's even joined by Mumble near the end.

Oh joy, another featurette on tap dancing! 'Creating the Tap' runs for a little under five minutes and includes more interview footage with Savion Glover, George Miller and choreographer Kelley Abbey as they discuss the process of bringing the tap dancing penguin to life. This is your typical promotional featurette, so you can expect lots of self-congratulatory backslapping with very little insight into the actual creative process.

Happy Feet
'Behind the Scenes of Happy Feet' is a thirteen-minute featurette that details the film's story through various interviews with the cast and crew. This featurette is slightly more revealing than anything else on the disc, with behind-the-scenes footage of the actors recording their dialogue and such, but don't expect anything too insightful. Basically, it's fluffier than Mumble himself.

'Somebody to Love' is the music video for the song sung by none other than Brittany Murphy, who played Gloria. The piece is basically a mixture of scenes from the film and behind-the-scenes footage of Ms. Murphy performing the song in the studio (pulling some interesting faces as she does so), and she actually has a half decent voice. It’s not really a music video, but what the hell.

Finally, the disc mentions some DVD-Rom content, but at the time of writing I couldn’t access it. Now that’s either because it hasn’t gone live yet or because the crappy Interactual software isn’t working properly (I suspect the latter), but either way I don’t know what the content is.

Happy Feet

Overall


I don’t hate Happy Feet, I’m just extremely indifferent towards it. There’s nothing here that hasn’t been seen before in superior movies ( Finding Nemo immediately springs to mind), and I just didn’t find myself caring for the characters and their plight. As I’ve already acknowledged, I’m not the target audience for the film, which is why the last thirty minutes or so are so confusing. My four-year-old niece loves it, as do my friends’ kids of a similar age, but they’re not really up on social issues. I guess it can be argued that the message has been included for all of the adults that take their kids along to the film, but it sends a very mixed message. Are we only to care about the penguins because they can tap dance?

Technically the DVD is actually pretty good, with excellent audio-visual presentation and a smattering of passable extras. I’ve become so disenfranchised with the rubbish that passes for bonus content these days that I’m probably not as critical as I should be, but the fact of the matter is that a few fluffy promotional featurettes and a couple of deleted scenes is about par for the course nowadays. The filmmakers saw fit to make a film with a half-arsed environmental message, but it’s not reflected in the supplemental material. Had there been some in-depth information on the plight of the penguins it might have helped to improve the overall score. Still, this is a no-brainer purchase for fans of the film (the under tens), and I fully expect to see it rocketing up the sales charts in the coming weeks.


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