Judge Franck Tabouring prefers watching penguins that don't sing or dance.
Our reviews of Happy Feet (published March 26th, 2007), Happy Feet (Blu-Ray) (published March 26th, 2007), and Happy Feet: (Combo HD DVD And Standard DVD) (published March 26th, 2007) are also available.
Warning: May cause toe-tapping.
Are you a penguin lover? If you are and would like to see some of them sing and dance, you may enjoy George Miller's animated family adventure Happy Feet, which took home $197.9 million domestically and surprisingly won the Academy Award for best animated feature in 2007. I say surprisingly because I hardly understand how this film managed to pull off such a success…
Facts of the Case
In the Antarctic Emperor Land, every newborn penguin is instantly an expert at singing, except the little Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood). Mumble is different from all the others in that he is pretty much the worst singer in the world, a trait that proves to be quite unfortunate if you live in an environment where you're a nobody unless you can sing. Even his strong passion for tap dancing can't earn him any respect from the elders around him.
So when the head penguin of Emperor Land is fed up with Mumble's inability to sing and bans him from the territory, the young penguin embarks on a perilous adventure, during which he will encounter a new penguin culture, learn how to be true to himself, and uncover a dangerous secret that may explain a sudden food shortage in Antarctica.
The facts of the case just above may promise a both captivating and entertaining experience, but as the following evidence shows, Happy Feet is not all about greatness and excitement. The main problem I have with this animated feature is its obvious lack of a consistent story line. I understand it takes quite a bit of time to set up a story and launch into it, but 45 minutes into this film, I still couldn't see the plot heading anywhere. I wouldn't go as far as to say the movie is boring, but the constant switch between musical sequences and a bunch of random, aimless segments made it hard for me to stay focused and sit through the whole 108 minutes without losing my interest.
One reason why Happy Feet is such a chaotic viewing experience is because of the filmmakers' desperate attempt to make a large amount of underdeveloped subplots look like one combined story. While the first part of the film spends quite some time focusing on how Mumble tries to fit in and impress others with his tap dancing, the remaining 40 minutes undergo a complete change in direction, following Mumble as he tries to get to the bottom of the sudden food shortage by making contact with the human world. It's a drastic change, and it just doesn't fit in.
As I mentioned above, the movie won the Oscar for best animated feature, and while I agree there were not many choices in that specific category that year, I must admit the two other films, Monster House and Pixar's Cars, left a much stronger impression on me. Happy Feet may have a visual advantage over the two, but its lack of a decent story certainly doesn't make it a better movie.
As you can see during the opening credits, the voiceover cast is quite impressive. Still, nobody really stands out here. Wood does an acceptable job as Mumble and Robin Williams delivers some laughs as a "foreign" penguin, but talents such as Brittany Murphy, Hugh Jackman, and Nicole Kidman don't really get to prove what they're really capable of. I understand they all sang their own songs, but truth be told, nobody really stands out.
Before getting to the more positive aspects of this DVD, let's take a quick look at the rather disappointing special features. Besides a theatrical trailer, the disc includes two music videos and a so-so dance lesson with choreographer Savion Glover. Kids may enjoy trying this out once, but it's not exactly an informative feature. Also included is a classic Warner Bros. cartoon entitled "I Love to Singa," which despite the passion for singing has absolutely nothing to do with the feature film. I mean, it's a funny cartoon, but it simply has no business on this disc. The only decent extras are two additional sequences with an introduction by George Miller. The one that really stands out is "Mumble Meets a Blue Whale," in which the late Steve Irwin voices an albatross. By the way, Irwin also voices one of the elephant seals in the feature presentation.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Despite its storyline flaws, Happy Feet is a visual masterpiece. The amount of detail of the snow, water, and animals is incredible, and the animation is quite simply fantastic. Luckily, the 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks gorgeous on the small screen, giving the computer animation the treatment it deserves. The quality of the sound is top-notch as well, with effects, dialogue and the songs all balanced quite well. If only the script were this strong, we'd definitely be talking about a superb movie.
Penguins are cute and watching them sing is fun, but once the music fades out the film turns into a more or less disappointing family flick that could have actually been a whole lot better. It's certainly not a total waste of time, and younger viewers may love it, but the absence of an intriguing plot ends up doing more damage than good.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Two Additional Scenes
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