One word to sum up the movie: Delightful.
What I liked:
- Need I write it down? It’s about penguins. Penguins are fascinating, and always adorable. Oh, except for Danny de Vito in the Batman movie.
- Mumble is extremely adorable. I didn’t realize that Baby Mumble’s voice was not Elijah’s until I checked the cast list. In any case, Elijah Wood, himself somewhat odd-looking, is a good choice to cast as one set apart from all others by his less penguinly looks and talents. I thought it an amusing touch to make Mumble’s coloring such that the tuxedo effect was more pronounced – yeah, all penguins do look like they are wearing tuxedos, but Mumble more so, with a bowtie and grey vest. Tuxedos and tap dancing, hee.
- The music. They had me at the 1st scene. The Norma Jean and Memphis opening duet was so fabulous it reminded me of Moulin Rouge. Gloria’s Somebody to Love at the graduation had me giggling the whole time. (Pretty good singing too, hey!) Pop, R&B, blues, hiphop, even some gospel, so much of the music was fun and enjoyable.
- Ramon and his merry band of mariachi misfits (the tiny Adelie penguins) provided many of the laugh-or-cry moments that I loved in the movie.
- The pathos. Naturally it can’t top National Geographic’s March of the Penguins when it comes to dramatizing the Emperor penguins’ journey to the most inhospitable of environments to bear their young, but I also found Mumble’s own struggle to express his individuality easy to relate to, and touching. `Course, those who aren’t into anthropomorphism might not agree.
- The animation. Eat your heart out, Pixar, those are darn life-like fluffy feathers! Check out the grey down on the baby penguins. And very smooth, fluid movements. Fear not though, you’ve got one over Animal Logic where it comes to facial expressions (Animal Logic or whichever of the two other special effects companies they employed, that is). The filmmakers relied on music to convey emotions, not so much on characters’ visible expressions. To be fair though, how can you do that with only beady penguin eyes, a beak and a whole lot of feathers? Not that Mumble's eyes are anywhere near beady, nor Elijah's. They could have taken advantage of those clear blue pools, imo. (No one can beat Weta’s Gollum yet where emotions of CG characters are concerned, though.)
What I willingly overlooked: the booboos
- The abrupt transition from Mumble in Penguin Park to his return home. Surely they could have done that better? I would have loved to see a National Geographic reference.
- Apparently Lovelace is a rockhopper penguin. (Yes, there is such a creature, check it out here.) Robin Williams is great as a rock-hopping mad guru figure. Thing is, there are only 2 species of penguins that live in Antartica, and rockhoppers aren’t one of them. Well, they could have written a backstory for him, say Lovelace stowed away on a ship to Antartica... nah, too Madagascar, that. Well any long-travelling guru and such and such story then. (Heh, Lovelace should have been Latino too, rockhoppers live in South America.)
- Some critics gripe that the movie tried to be everything all at once: it was advocating for the environment, it was about being different, surviving in the Antartican wilderness, about love, loss of innocence, coming of age, humans' continuing domination of the planet, the cruelty of uprooting animals from their natural habitat, etc etc. Yes, it was ambitious to try to convey all that. But who cares if it worked in that respect or not? Happy Feet is about penguins. Who doesn’t like penguins?
Interesting detail: Steve Irwin, the late crocodile hunter, provided the voice for Trev, one of the humongous elephant seals who Mumble and company spoke to as they approached the ocean. The movie was dedicated to Irwin.