GOTTA FLAP, GOTTA DANCE

Happy Feet is a happy pair­ing of rav­ish­ing CGI and morally wor­thy eco-fa­ble, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - REVIEWS FILM -

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.

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