Screenwriter: George Miller, John Collee, Judy Morris, Warren Coleman
Starring: Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, Brittany Murphy, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Hugo Weaving
Running time: 109 mins
Mumble the Emperor Penguin (Wood) is born with a difference. The ability to sing is pivotal to acceptance in the Emperors' colony, but unfortunately Mumble emerges from his egg dancing about the place but can't sing to save his life. Although this quirkiness is embraced by mother Norma Jean (Kidman), his father Memphis (Jackman) agrees with the rest of the colony that his "hippity-hoppity ways just aren't penguin".
His lack of conformity proving a barrier to both his chances with chickhood crush Gloria (Murphy) and his place in an avian society which insists on conventionality, he strays from the colony and befriends a gang of small Mexican-sounding penguins fronted by Ramon (Williams), where his difference is embraced. Cast out of his own society because his oddness has been blamed for the birds' fish shortage, Mumble and his new friends set out to prove otherwise.
Happy Feet starts as it means to go on. After an impressive and imaginatively-shot animation, we are treated to several perfectly-rendered penguins singing and dancing to one another in order to find a mate. For the first half of the movie, music takes a prominent role in proceedings, and it's used excellently. Aiming for diversity rather than recognition (particularly for the kids) in some cases, the songs range from all styles and genres, from Prince's 'Kiss' to a Spanish version of 'My Way'. Mumble's dancing is less spectacular, particularly in the earlier stages since his feet are so close to his body, but beyond that is enjoyable enough.
The film's other strong point is its visuals. As well as the animation itself (the Antarctic vista shots are consistently beautifully realistic), director George Miller (Babe, Mad Max) generates freshness and excitement with some effective camera-work seldom found in animated features.
The cast are in fine voice throughout, with Kidman, Murphy et al. singing their own parts. Wood sounds suitably naive and wide-eyed, whilst kids' favourite Williams reels in the laughs as well as ever in what is a consistently amusing film.
There are two messages offered in Happy Feet, neither of them delivered with a great deal of subtlety. The idea of strength in individuality, a familiar theme in children's films, is wrapped up well and succeeds emotionally. However, the conservational messages don't quite hit home. Although getting kids to think about man's impact on other species and the environment is an undeniably positive sentiment, the way in which it is done jars with the rest of the film. The issue is handled gently until the last twenty minutes, after which the plot contorts itself to make the point heavy-handedly to the film's detriment.
Until the final twenty minutes, Happy Feet is an unwaveringly superb movie. Excellently animated, original and featuring solid voice acting both in speech and song, this is a superior movie for kids and adults alike.