GOTTA FLAP, GOTTA DANCE
Happy Feet is a happy pairing of ravishing CGI and morally worthy eco-fable, writes Donald Clarke
HAPPY FEET ★★★ Directed by George Miller. Starring Robin Williams, Hugh Jackman, Elijah Wood, Nicole Kidman, Brittany Murphy, Hugo Weaving, Steve Irwin PG cert, gen release, 108 min
FOX News, the right-winger’s friend, has been up in arms about Happy Feet, in which penguins suffer the grim effects of global warming, and, sure enough, there is something shocking and surprising about George Miller’s picture.
Over the course of 2006, we have come to accept the maxim that nothing is quite so dull as a digitally animated feature concerning talking animals. It is, thus, somewhat discombobulating to discover that Happy Feet is funny, moving and – long after we have become blasé about such affairs – stunning in its technological invention. The story is desperately thin, it’s true, and the film-makers do try and address a few too many Big Themes. But, in the era of Open Season and Barnyard, we must be grateful for small mercies. None of which is to suggest that Mr Miller, director of Mad Max and Babe, should be forgiven for allowing the dread Robin Williams to voice two characters.
The hero of the piece (voiced by Elijah Wood) is a young emperor penguin named Mumble who, though unable to sing the songs of Prince or Grandmaster Flash like his fly fellows, has an irrepressible talent for tap-dancing. For some obscure theological reason, this outrages the colony’s fundamentalist preachers – you can see why Fox got belligerent – and causes Mumble to light out for the territory. He encounters a gang of smaller, more Mexican penguins who follow a seer with the attitude of Isaac Hayes. Events are overshadowed by a continuing shortage of fish supplies and occasional collapses of the ice shelf. These crises are, of course, mainly our fault.
The decision to attempt a kind of photo-realism does render the characters confusingly similar, but adults and children will be equally amazed by the dizzying underwater ballet, the vast crowd scenes and, most impressively, the starkly Kubrickian sequence detailing Mumble’s unhappy adventures in a marine park.
That scene (and others) enraged some conservatives by encouraging youngsters to ask difficult questions of their adult leaders. Most sane folk, noting the film’s reluctance to preach, will, however, welcome such ecological subtexts.