Happy Feet (A-)


Terrific music, environmentalism & tons of penguins

If you sometimes feel you might swerve your car into oncoming traffic if you have to listen to one more Disney song, then Happy Feet (2006) is the movie for you.  A jukebox musical, Happy Feet’s soundtrack is packed with rock classics by Stevie Wonder, Queen, Prince, and others performed with soul and flair by hugely talented singers (no Alvin and the castrati chipmunks here, folks).

The Plot. Happy Feet focuses on a young Emperor penguin, Mumble (Elijah Wood), who doesn’t fit in because he cannot do the one thing Emperor penguins value over all else: sing.  Mumble can only dance – – which his father, Memphis (Hugh Jackman, channeling Elvis), tells him “ain’t penguin.”   Other penguins ostracize the tone-deaf Mumble, and the girl of his dreams, Gloria (the late Brittany Murphy, an amazing singer), just pities him.  When the penguins start running out of fish, the penguin elders suggest that Mumble’s dancing has angered the penguin deities and caused the famine.  Mumble leaves in disgrace, determined to find out what really made the fish run out (spoiler: it’s us).  Along the way, Mumble befriends a group of Hispanic penguins (led by Robin Williams), escapes attacks by killer whales, and seeks guidance from a penguin “seer” (again, Robin Williams).  Ultimately, humans take Mumble hostage in a zoo, and he manages to connect with them through dance.

Talk to your kids!  There’s a lot of big stuff for them to process here.  Mumble is ostracized because of the one thing that makes him truly special: his dancing.  Although the other Emperor penguins don’t initially value that, Mumble finds his crew of friends when he ventures out a just a little.  If your kid is having trouble fitting in now, Happy Feet offers hope: don’t conform because just around the corner (in high school, or college), real friends await.

Plus, the movie introduces kids to environmentalism in a very concrete way.  Human overfishing has caused the famine in Happy Feet, and – – through Mumble’s adventures – – we see it impacting the penguins and other species.  This flick insists that humans can and should fix the damage they cause.  Lastly (please cover your eyes if this bit offends you), the movie plumbs the schism between empiricism (science) and superstition (religion).  Little kids will be oblivious, but big kids might not be.

Before you rent this flick, heed these NIGHTMARE ALERTS!!!  This movie has some very scary chase scenes: one involving a toothy leopard seal (track 10) and another with killer whales (track 21).  Plus, when Mumble first ends up at the zoo, he goes – – quite creepily – – mad from captivity.  Most kids will shrug this off because Mumble peps up again when he starts dancing.  But you might have to face some uncomfortable questions next time you take your kids to the zoo.

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