DVD Release Date:  March 27, 2007
Theatrical Release Date:  November 17, 2006
Rating:  PG (mild peril, rude humor)
Genre:  Comedy/Musical
Run Time:  98 min.
Director:  George Miller
Featuring the voices of:  Robin Williams, Hugh Jackman, Elijah Wood, Nicole Kidman, Brittany Murphy, Hugo Weaving

Now here’s something I never thought I’d say about a kiddie pic:  “Happy Feet” borrows some of its plot from last year’s unexpectedly popular “March of the Penguins” documentary and tells the story in vibrant “Moulin Rouge” fashion, complete with stunning visuals and songs straight from the pop culture vault.

It’s these theatrical elements, not to mention a witty screenplay and some of the best animation I’ve seen in a while, that ultimately make the film enjoyable for kids and adults alike, a welcome relief for parents who’ve endured far too many “Baby Einstein” or “Barney” DVDs.

Surprisingly enough, there’s also a moral or two – namely about being yourself and embracing your individuality – tucked in with the fun as “Happy Feet” introduces us to the oh-so-cute, but vocally challenged Mumble (Elijah Wood). Due to being exposed to the elements – albeit briefly – while he was still in his shell, Mumble can’t sing.

And while humans would probably just accept their tone-deaf nature, well, a penguin that can’t carry a tune is in serious danger of not finding a future mate. Without a “heart song,” Mumble’s parents Memphis, an Elvis sound-alike (Hugh Jackman) and Norma Jean (a breathy, Marilyn Monroe-esque Nicole Kidman) fear for his romantic future.  

But as we learn later on, Mumble isn’t without a talent to call his own. Turns out he can dance something fierce, something that Memphis proclaims “Just ain’t penguin.” And while his Mama still loves him no matter what, Mumble quickly becomes an outcast not only at home – but at school, too.

Thankfully, though, Mumble’s not friendless for long as he finds kindred spirits when introduced to a bunch of Latino penguins that happen to think his dance moves are muy caliente. Now with friends who truly understand him and don’t care whether he can sing or not, particularly the cocky-but-hilarious Ramon (Robin Williams, who steals the show like he did in “Aladdin” as the genie), he’s happy and confident for the first time in his short life.

Much like the more vintage Disney fare (think “Bambi,” “Cinderella” and “The Little Mermaid”), “Happy Feet” succeeds by creating memorable characters that viewers can’t help but care about. And while the moralizing, particularly on environmental issues, gets a little heavy-handed by film’s end, one’s just thankful the movie has any substance at all when compared to some of other funny-but-frivolous options already out there.

But the best part of all is the span-the-genres soundtrack, which unless you’re in a really bad mood already from all the upcoming holiday preparations, will likely get stuck in your head and eventually cause your own case of “happy feet” until the last credit has rolled. Consider yourself warned.

AUDIENCE:  All ages

CAUTIONS: 

  • Language/Profanity:  No language of the “salty” variety, just a few jokes involving potty humor.
  • Sex/Nudity:  Like the real Elvis Presley, Memphis likes to swivel his hips suggestively. Also a few of the songs used have overtly sexual overtones (although kids probably won’t notice).
  • Violence:  There’s a few menacing animals who are bound and determined to eat the penguins, which could be a little disturbing for the younger set.
  • Worldview:  While it’s likely to go over most younger kids’ heads, there’s definitely a not-so-subtle endorsement for animal rights that older children and parents will definitely pick up on. In addition, there’s almost an Al Gore-like eco-friendly stance on environmental issues.
  • Religion:  Although not overt, organized religion is slammed – perhaps intentionally – when the religious elders of the village are stereotyped as out of touch with the issues of the day.