December 11, 2008

DVD Review: Happy Feet

It was just over two years ago that a movie about singing and dancing penguins graced screens across the nation. The movie proved to be a hit with families as its box office gross came in just below $200 million. It currently sits as the fourteenth highest grossing film in animated movie history and was the second highest grosser among animated features of 2006, a year that was stuffed with them. I remember handing over my money and sitting there in that theater watching these penguins dance their way into my heart. Well, that may be overstating it just a little, but there is no denying the tow-tapping good time I had when it was on the big screen. Unfortunately time passes and feelings change.

I remember watching the film shortly after it was released on DVD in the Spring of 2007. I watched it with the rest of my immediate family, positive they would be into the penguin, the feet-tapping, and the songs. I was wrong, it turned out they were bored and disinterested in the whole affair. Fortunately, I was still into it, enjoying the songs and the story.

More time passes and with the approaching holiday there seems to be a renewed push behind the movie. I guess it makes sense considering it was well-received originally, kids seem to like it and there is plenty of snow to go with the season. So, I have taken some time to revisit it, and it seems that, at least for me, time has not been terribly kind to it.

Happy Feet is the story of Mumble (Elijah Wood), a young Emperor penguin who stands out from the rest of his brethren. You see, Mumble can't sing, which is a big thing in an animated community centered on the heartsong, the song that each penguin finds inside him or herself that they use to attract a mate. Mumble's heart is expressed through dance rather than song, and while he can most definitely dance, his lack of an original voice leads to him being ostracized for being different. To top things off, there is a shortage of fish, and Mumble's differences lead him to be blamed for this lack of food and ultimately exiled by the community elders, made up of a group of older straitlaced penguins who have no tolerance for original thought.

Following Mumble's exile we accompany him on an epic journey, a journey to find himself, find the food, and win the heart of the penguin he loves. The journey takes him to places no penguin has gone, as well as into close proximity to a smaller group of penguins where he befriends some non-conformists led by Ramon (Robin Williams). The story elements are nothing new — coming of age, fish out of water, ugly duckling, man versus environment, they have all been done before. What makes Happy Feet stand out is the enthusiasm that has been stitched inside the cliches. The familiar songs, the big dance numbers, the adorable characters, and the wacky humor provided primarily by Robin William's Ramon character all add to the fun factor.

George Miller, better known for his live action fare (including The Road Warrior and Babe) directs in the animated world for the first time, making a film that is equal parts family-safe weekend afternoon entertainment and slightly more subversive tale that takes a shot at conformity and organized religion and gives a new perspective on eco-horror.

It is here that time has not been kind. Yes, the film still has some infectious qualities, but they are not nearly as infectious as they were the first couple of times. Perhaps there is a bit more of my parents in me than I thought. As I sat there watching the DVD, I could not help but feel a little bit bored. Everything just felt a little flatter and devoid of any genuine emotion, instead going to a quick joke or a song while the eco-terror story stood out a bit more. Not that the ecological side of the story isn't important, but it did not feel as well written into the story as I thought it was before, rather it felt written on top of the story. Perhaps it was the story was tailored to the message instead of the message being born organically out of the story.

No, it is not a terrible film, just not one that has stood the test of two years. What worked on the big screen and upon initial home viewing does not hold the attention upon further repeat viewings. Either that or I have been spoiled by the likes of Ratatouille, WALL-E, and Kung Fu Panda, all of which have had multiple home viewings.

Audio/Video. The technical side of the Warner Bros. DVD is quite strong. Colors are bright and sharp, action is smooth, no signs of any digital issues. Likewise, the audio is crisp, clear, and does well representing the music it contains. Video is 2.35:1 widescreen and the audio is Dolby Digital 5.1.

  • Mumble Meets a Blue Whale. This scene was cut before production wrapped and is actually pretty good. It features Steve Irwin as the voice of a seagull (he was used instead to voice the elephant seal in the final film). It is a very "Irwin" moment and its inclusion here is a tribute to his memory.
  • A Happy Feet Moment. This bit is actually rather dumb and borders on child abuse. It depicts daddy using little Mumble as a hacky sack.
  • Dance Like a Penguin: Stomp to the Beat. This featurette is hosted by dancer Savion Glover and goes another step towards showing just how good he is. His movements were captured for use in the film.
  • Music Videos. Two music videos are included: "Hit Me Up" by Gia and "The Song of the Heart" by Prince. Both of them incorporate footage from the film.
  • I Love to Singa. This is an old school Merrie Melodies short that is nice inclusion. It is also funny because it is about a young owl exiled by his family because of his singing.
  • Trailer. The original theatrical trailer.

Bottomline. I don't know. I don't think this is a bad film, just one that is good for one or two viewings, but that is about it. It is different than many other animated features in its more cinematic approach, but it is hardly original. You could do worse.

Mildly Recommended.


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