Sunday, April 08, 2007

Happy Feet

If you've ever missed those wonderful dancing movies, like the ones starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, this just may be your movie. However, I must warn you: In this movie, Fred and Ginger have big, webbed feet.

Despite the cute dancing and singing scenes by these Emperor penguins, there's so much wrong with this movie. This is more an adult film than a kids' film. There's some real peril here, where awesomely-drawn but mean-looking seals and gulls chase young penguins. And the beginning of the film takes some focus because the first half an hour concerns how Mumble's parents got together. It takes a bit to get into the heart of the movie...

...which is teenager Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood), who finds that he just doesn't fit into the penguin population. He dances rather than sings. Singing is how these penguins find their soul-mates. There's a charming sequence in the beginning of the film where Hugh Jackman, who is channeling Elvis, meets Nicole Kidman, who is channeling Marilyn Monroe, and they do an outstanding version of Prince's "Kiss." However, again, not many seven-year-olds are going to appreciate that.

A good 45 minutes lapses before Mumble gets to be a meaningful age -- another pacing problem. At that point, the film becomes an adventure, a good thing as far as the kids are concerned, and we enjoyed it, too, as his adventures out beyond his home are breathtakingly beautiful, and take you to a place animation has never gone. You can see every hair on that penguin's body, and the motion in the action sequences seems real, and the figures more than two-dimensional.

Mumble meets some amusing characters along the way, many of whom are voiced by Robin Williams in a very funny way.

However -- and this is a big "however" -- all of the smaller penguins (especially the main one played by Williams) are stereotypically Hispanic in voice and look. All are dimunitive, all are English-as-a-second language, and they sing mambo-type songs. The group of five call themselves The Amigos, to make the point very clear. They're very funny supporting characters, but I abhor the idea that little kids are taking this misinformation as gospel.

Another negative is the environmentally-heavy "lessons" this movie wants to convey. In fact, the DVD has included a short documentary on the subject of fishing the world dry. However, neither the movie nor the documentary offers any solutions. So, when your child refuses the salmon on her plate after seeing this movie, what can your answer be? Become a vegetarian because Mumble might starve?

The dancing is stunning. I understand that dancer Savion Glover was the motion-captured model for the animation. Happy Feet will rewrite how animation is done.

However, the flawed story and the impact of its messages need work.

Thumb's up for adults who can see through this fowl play, but thumb's down for children, who might be scared and take its lessons literally.