The success of "March of the Penguins" has resulted in both good (this film) and pure evil (Bob Saget's awful "Farce of the Penguins".) "Happy Feet" (Oscar winner for best animated picture, surprising many by beating out Pixar's "Cars") is the latest family feature from director George Miller, well known for his "Babe" series, as well as the very different "Mad Max" films.
"Happy Feet" opens in the frosty Antarctic, with penguins using their "heartsong" to find a mate. Memphis (Hugh Jackman) and Norma Jean (Nicole Kidman) meet over her "Moulin Rouge"-y version of a classic Prince tune and his take on Elvis. However, the two are stunned to find that their new child, Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood) doesn't have a heartsong - in fact, he has a screechy, squeaky voice. He does, however, have an ability to tap dance with what he calls his "happy feet."
While his mother is initially accepting, the rest of the village doesn't look so kindly on a penguin who's different than the rest. No one expects him to find a mate, but Mumble eventually sets his sights on Gloria (Brittany Murphy), a friend who likes him despite the fact that he is not going to be appearing on Penguin Idol any time soon.
Eventually, Mumbles accidentially winds up with a bunch of little (Adelie) Latin penguins, lead by Ramon (Robin Williams), who appreciate his impressive dance skills (famed tapper Savion Glover's moves were digitally captured for scenes where Mumble dances) and help him on his search for why the supply of fish has suddenly started to dry up.
"Happy Feet"'s animation is one of its high points, as the animation is incredibly detailed, with fluid movement. I can't remember seeing camerawork like this on an animated feature, as the widescreen images do a stunning job capturing both the action and the dance sequences and camera movement is surprisingly aggressive, but in a way that's smooth and delightful, highlighting the choreography and construction of these sequences.
Both the dance sequences and the action sequences are often wildly entertaining, as the musical numbers seem like an animated "Moulin Rouge", with a real sense of spirit and energy, as well as interesting song choices. The action sequences are tense and exciting, with a real sense of speed (an avalanche scene is particularly wild and rather beautiful) and moments of danger. The voice acting is terrific, with Wood, Murphy and Kidman as highlights.
The second half of this surprisingly stuffed film changes tones rather sharply, as what was a light and zippy comedy slowly turns into a darker and saddening second half that delivers an environmental message in a way that, while maybe a little heavy handed at times (and a live-action bit towards the end doesn't quite work), is nevertheless a good message, uniquely presented here and it results in some emotional moments in the film's last half hour.
Overall, "Happy Feet" is a far better film than the trailers made it out to be. Able to be both light on its feet and dramatic, the film delivers some good messages, great musical numbers, entertaining action scenes, memorable performances, an entertaining story and dazzling animation. Somehow, it manages to fit an awful lot within its 109-minute running time. A very pleasant surprise.
VIDEO: Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen by Warner Brothers, "Happy Feet" looked exceptional. Sharpness and detail were terrific throughout, and every little feather on the main characters was often clearly visible. The picture appeared free of edge enhancement, artifacting and other issues. Colors were not always bright, but richer tones showed through very well, with nice saturation and no smearing. Overall, this is a beautiful transfer.
SOUND: Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1-EX, the film's soundtrack was not hugely aggressive, but came to life nicely when needed, providing some reinforcement for the film's many tunes on the soundtrack and sound effects during the action sequences. Audio quality was terrific, as dialogue sounded well-recorded and clean, while music seemed rich, full and bassy.
EXTRAS: "Happy Feet Moment" and "Mumble Meets a Blue Whale" shorts, "Dance Like a Penguin: Stomp to the Beat" featurette, trailer, music videos and "I Love to Singa" animated short. Overall, not much.
Final Thoughts: "Happy Feet" is a pleasant surprise, with an involving story, a great mixture of action, music, comedy and drama and impressive animation. The DVD offers excellent audio/video quality, but limited extras. Still, highly recommended.