Happy FeetBy Jane Louise Boursaw
MPAA Rating: PG for some mild peril and rude humor
It tells the story of Mumble (Elijah Wood), an Emperor Penguin in Antarctica who can tap dance like there's no tomorrow, but he can't sing a note. That's a real problem, because every penguin must sing a unique heart song to attract a soul mate.
Mumble's mom, Norma Jean (Nicole Kidman), thinks his dancing is awfully cute. In fact, she thinks he's perfect in every way. But his Dad, Memphis (Hugh Jackman), just shakes his head, saying, "It just ain't penguin." Plus, he blames himself for his son's differences because of a mishap when he was still in the egg.
As luck would have it, Mumble's one friend, Gloria (Brittany Murphy), happens to be the best singer around. The two pals have a connection from the moment they hatch, but she struggles with his strange "hippity-hoppity" ways.
Mumble just doesn't fit in, so Noah the Elder (Hugo Weaving), the stern leader of Emperor Land, ousts him from the community. Away from home for the first time, the unhappy Mumble runs into a posse of decidedly un-Emperor penguins – the Adelie Amigos. Led by Ramon (Robin Williams), the Latino-inspired group instantly embrace Mumble's cool dance moves.
For the first time in his life, Mumble truly has somewhere to belong. He also finds counsel in Lovelace the Guru (also voiced by Robin Williams), a crazy-feathered Rockhopper penguin (think the smooth-talking Barry White) who will answer any of life's questions for the price of a pebble.
A parallel plotline involves a shortage of fish in the community and no one knows why. We learn more about this environmental mystery as Mumble's adventure continues. Along the way, he runs into some penguin-eating birds and mammals (the late Steve Irwin voices a humongous elephant seal), not to mention some weird-looking man-made machines.
This is one of those rare movies that just works on all levels. The characters are fun and heartfelt, the animation is top-notch, and the voices are perfect in their roles. Robin Williams' over-the-top schtick keeps the movie from getting too serious.
What brings it all together is the huge variety of music, including rock, funk, opera, pop, gospel and Latin, much of it arranged by composer John Powell. One of Gloria's songs is an homage to Freddie Mercury with Queen's "Somebody to Love," which goes perfectly with the movie's theme. Other songs include The Beach Boys' "Do It Again," Frank Sinatra's "My Way" (sung by Robin Williams in Spanish), and a version of Prince's "Kiss" (sung as a duet by Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman). Prince also wrote an original song for the movie, "The Song of the Heart," played over the end credits.
That's just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. All the music is super, and the songs and dances never stop throughout the movie. Award-winning choreographer Savion Glover created the dance moves. It's like a Broadway musical – with penguins!
If you only see one more movie this year, make it Happy Feet.
PRESCHOOLERS (ages 2-5): Though this movie is rated PG for some mild peril and rude humor, it's fine for kids aged 4 and older. The peril scenes revolve mainly around menacing creatures trying to eat the penguins (so you might want to warn your kids ahead of time about that). There's also some potty humor involving bodily functions, but nothing too objectionable.
GRADE-SCHOOLERS (ages 6-10): Mumble is a loser in the eyes of his peers, and he feels a lot of pain. But he's also heroic, brave, and optimistic. He never gives up, and that's a great message for kids of all ages. This movie also reminds us that it's not physical attributes and beauty that get you through life. It's your attitude. And it's important to never compromise on the things that make us who we are.
TWEEN/TEEN (ages 11+): Mumble doesn't measure up to Memphis' standards as a penguin. "Don't ask me to change, Pa," says the young penguin. But once he shows his dad that he's going to be ok, the family comes together again. It's a good message about family expectations and accepting people for who they are. As mentioned at the beginning of this review, this movie won the Heartland Film Festival's Truly Moving Picture Award – given to films that explore the human journey by artistically expressing hope and respect for the positive values of life. This movie does that beautifully, and its feel-good message will stay with tweens and teens long after they leave the theater – hopefully into their clique-filled classrooms.
Jane Louise Boursaw is a freelance journalist specializing in the movie and television industries.
PG for some mild peril and rude humor