With the release of Surf’s Up, it’s worth taking a (rather sceptical) look back over Happy Feet.Written by Fiona, a contributor to The Stub.
Happy Feet. The title was misleading. This film wasn’t about a pair of large mutant (but happy!) feet wrecking havoc on a small country town in the Antarctic. In fact it was about a useless (because he can’t sing popular tunes…) furry penguin who can dance. Unlike useless, furry humans who can’t sing but can dance, this penguin manages to save his entire community from fish depletion related starvation..and bag the best looking penguin (i.e. she looked exactly the same as the rest..woo hot stuff..I think?). Useless furry humans, at most, manage to keep the furry regrowth at bay and maybe meet a few nice people who don’t mind their crap voice. Because we humans generally only dance in nightclubs, the contents of which are all drunk, any fantastic dancing skills will go largely unnoticed or if noticed, will be attributed to some class of drugs. If Mr Happy Feet had lived in our world, with such twitchy feet he would have been in rehab by now. So essentially my main problem with this film was that it was highly illogical. But maybe it was foolish of me to expect logic.
The second problem was the clichéd plot. Again foolishness perhaps, but I thought we were living in a time of animated films that push the boat out a little when it comes to storylines and characters. I know films which are aimed at kids, and, trying to have a well aimed shot at our heartstrings, need to instil familiar themes -the outsider who becomes accepted, the ugly duckling who becomes a..less ugly duckling or princess or something. They need to inject that roadtrip/buddy movie feel, that parental estrangement/bonding scenario. Happy Feet has all this, and granted, it has painted them into the quite original picture of life in the Antarctic, but because it tries so desperately to be different yet at the time clinging to the same..it just ends up relying on the cuteness of the penguins or the snazziness of the singing/dance routines to vie for our affections.
The characters are not all one dimensional personalities..but the quality of the animation/voice sync up is terrible in my opinion. Perhaps it’s difficult to give a penguin an expressive, distinctive face (the leopard seal was excellent by comparison), and there were just too many penguins. Other animated films revolving around animals have never taken this risk before, limiting themselves to two or three of the same species per film..going beyond that, makes distinguishing individual’s difficult (see Shark Tale..way too many sharks at some points..sigh..). The plain landscape of the Antarctic also offers little to distract the eye. At the beginning of the film I was wondering how they were going to make do with the limited colour spectrum (navy/white penguins +white snow = oh god give me some yellow) and limited animal species. Even in Ice Age, they rapidly collected a variety of creatures to trek through the snow-bound film together, and to keep us entertained. Many of the voices of decent actors were wasted on identical, faceless penguins, and I’m confused as to why Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman seemed to sound nothing like themselves- maybe they didn’t want to be recognised? Practice may make perfect, that’s at least what Robin Williams performance as the voices of Ramon and Lovelace would suggest. Excellent as the genie in Aladdin, and excellent here, he creates two of the more unique characters all by himself. Either his penguins were animated to fit round his voice and personality more attentively than the others, or Williams simply has remarkably expressive voice. Much of the success of an animated film results from good voice casting, and it feels like the makers of Happy Feet just didn’t cast their nets out far enough in this area.
All the negatives aside, after watching Happy Feet I did feel..well…happy, and perhaps a little angry…(penguins don’t have knees goddamnit!*). If, like me, you think real penguins are lovely, then you’ll probably think this animated bunch are too. And there is an attempt to tack an eco-friendly message onto the end of the film, which is admirable (I’m not being sarcastic here, I really do think it’s a redeeming feature of the film). But all in all, if you were most thrilled by the leopard seal chase, the views of Antarctic plains, or the community closeness of the penguins..then go watch David Attenborough’s documentary Life in The Freezer. Or even March of The Penguins. I hear it’s good.
* Note to reader. I have since learned that penguins do in fact have knees. We just can’t see them. I would like to apologise to the penguin community for spreading lies about them. I still, however, maintain that penguins can absolutely not dance. Since, they have no ears. I am confident there will be no further retractions. Thank you.