Movie Reviews 01: Happy Feet

If the idea of cute, animated, dancing penguins seems way too cute for you, skip this movie. If that appeals to you, you might like Happy Feet.

It's an okay film that has gotten mixed reviews. The graphics are amazing. The critters are life-like. And the toe-tapping soundtrack may have you dancing in the aisle.

Mumble, a baby Penguin is born without the ability to sing. He is the only Penguin that can't sing and has no place in Emperor Penguin society. And without a heartsong, he can't expect to find love. He can, however, dance, and that is unacceptable to the Penguin elders.

As with all such stories, Mumble heads out to find his own way in the wilderness.

There is a heavy handed environmental message and story line that I expected. There is also a story line that attacks the Christian Fundamentalists. There is a family-acceptance story line. And, of course, there is the inevitable love story.

The main failing of the movie is that it tries to do too much in 109 minutes.

The primary story line probably should have been the love story or the tale of acceptance. Instead, it was the environmental story line that drove the action and was resolved in an exceedingly cheese-y manor. The story line itself built slowly and well. It started with subtle hints early on, without being overly pedantic. And it drove the heroe's epic quest of self discovery.

But I think the writers built the story and got about two thirds of the way through writing it but then hit the wall. They thought, "Damn. How do we end this?" And then they struggled with the rest of the script.

The Christian fundamentalist story line was well written. It wasn't a major plot, but was well integrated. It had a bit of a Footloose feel to it.

By choosing to focus on the environmental story line, though, they cut short the questing hero story line and the love story. Mumble goes from task to task and does the "right" thing to help the people who rejected him. But we don't see him grow. We don't really see the personal stuggle as he goes from being a child to being a hero. Mumble is always sympathetic and likable, but as a character, he is shallow. The story line needed more time to develop, but probably got cut for time.

We worry about Mumble and the other Penguins. And we care about them because they are cute, heroic, and funny. They face death frequently and struggle to survive. They build the tension and suspense.

In the end, though, I don't feel for Mumble. I don't get to be part of his growth and personal transformation from misfit, downtrodden kid to great Penguin saviour.

Maybe I'm looking for too much from a kids' movie. It's an enjoyable film that's worth seeing on the big screen. And if you can handle the sweetness, it's a good way to spend an hour and a half.

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