Saturday, November 18, 2006

Day Eighteen--and Happy Feet--The Movie

Bunny had no school yesterday--conferences, as I think I have already mentioned. So, we had a couple of girlfriends over: sort of a playdate/daycare kind of deal, and we went to see the new movie Happy Feet.

Now, as a seasoned viewer of kid flicks, I feel I don't ask for much. Not every movie can be The Incredibles, or even Lilo and Stitch. I look for charm, humor, nothing too scary, a decent story arc. The kidlets hate to see anything in jeopardy or even characters who are sad. Lovely animation is a bonus. I had some concerns about Happy Feet, because the reviews emphasized that this was a movie that went "deep and dark," that dared to be a movie with a message.


FernGully is a movie with a message. That whole damn movie is about cute little animals and fairies trying to save the rainforest from humans and heavy equipment. THAT is a message movie. Happy Feet is a family movie with some human bashing thrown in at the end but tied up tidily in about 15 minutes, a schizophrenic mash-up that sacrifices a real story arc for a 98 minute running time.

The first half of the movie is classic kid flick fare; it's Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer at the Other Pole. Mumbles the penguin is born with happy feet--he can't sing like the rest of the penguins, but he can tap like Savion Glover. EXACTLY like Savion Glover, in fact, due to the magic of motion capture. This is considered an abomination among the penguin elders, and Mumbles ends up banished, but not before the prettiest penguin in EmperorLand falls for him.

He meets up with some quirky sidekicks, goes on a quest, yadda yadda, comes home and gets the girl happy and finds his place the end. That would be a 90 minute family movie, about the power of embracing one's differences, the fear of not conforming and the joy of learning how not to.

But, that's somehow not enough. So a second 90 minute plot is forced onto this one. Somehow, despite living hundreds of miles inland, word gets around that the fish supply is being depleted, and the penguins are starving. Not so's you notice it, mind you. There's no animation support for that proposition--they all still look fat and happy, there's no decrease in their numbers or change in their motion habits. Just take the dialogue's word for it--there's no food. One of the elder penguins--voiced by Hugo Weaving and looking for all the world like a vulture--declares that it's a sign from the great Guin that they have tolerated the abomination of Happy Feet and Mumbles ust be driven out to restore the balance.

Okay, that too might be a plot--it might even be cool to explore what a penguin religion might be, and how they might conceive of something other than ice and snow. But religion is just the tool of the Big Bad Old Guy, and Mumbles (who has managed to not molt either--it's not cute, just kind of mangy) heads off to figure out what is happening to the fish.

Well, of course, it's those Nasty Humans, netting huge numbers of fish with their commercial boats. Not only that, but those nasty humans have built some sort of industrial station, and then abandoned it, leaving behind a backwash of crap. One penguin, voiced by the unavoidable Robin Williams, wears a soda can six-pack ring around his neck, which doesn't manage to strangle him, but does render him voiceless for a large part of the movie.

Well, of course, Mumbles gets angry at these "aliens" who don't seem to care they are taking the fish, and he swims after them. So, here's a second quest, which could also have been its own movie--but since it's just jammed onto the first movie, we cut to Mumbles passed out on the Jersey shore. He wakes up in a zoo, where he tries to communicate with the humans and goes mad. The other penguins call him "Dave" and they all talk like HAL 2000. So, here we have a bit of zoo bashing, just tossed in for why? I don't know. Because after some unnamed number of months (and he's still not molted yet--what is it about this perpetual immaturity?) he does his happy feet thing. And the next thing we know, he's back at EmperorLand with a radio remote mounted on his back convincing the younger penguins that if they all dance, the fish will come back because the humans want to help.

So, a research helicopter appears and humans come make a videotape of the thousands of STOMPing penguins and it becomes a huge hit on television and people think that if penguins dance then we have to stop commercial fishing and nobody points out that the fish are being taken to feed humans because fishing is just evil and the humans who oppose the ban just don't understand how cute penguins are but then everything is okay and a fishing ban is made and the fish come back and happilyeveraftercakes. This part takes about 90 seconds, excluding the big penguin dance number.

Whaaa? When did we get nice humans? Why did they make the connection between one dancing penguin and returning him to Antarctica? Why does he trust them? How did they mount that radio to his back--superglue? It looks implanted and creepy. What kind of smack does it say about humans that it takes 60 seconds of dancing penguins on videotape to resolve a major ecological issue--and why didn't they just throw in the ozone layer while they were at it? And WHY doesn't that damn Mumbles EVER MOLT?

Sure, the animation is beautiful--you'd never believe they could do so much with a palate of just white. The snow blocks shearing off and crashing into the ocean are fabulous--the desolate beauty of Antarctica is awesome. The movie tackles the problem of how hard it is to do CGI humans by blending the CGI with actual film of human beings. Visually, it's stunning. Sure, the tap dancing is a bit weird when performed by birds with virtually no legs at all and big horny clawed feet, but it's still oddly jubilant. The Moulin Rouge music mashes kind of work, although I got very tired of the Marilyn Monroe voice of Nicole Kidman. We have singing, we have dancing, we have Elijah Wood leading yet another band of misfits to deal with the adverse effects of a ring, we have religious fanatics driving out misfits, we have an Elvis impersonator, we have ecological finger-wagging, we have good humans, bad humans and humans who can't dance.

So, I'm asking--what was the point of this movie? And what the hell happened to the arc of storytelling? I mean, geez, what kind of third rate script is this? I gotta tell you, all three 5th grade girls I was with walked out of the theater saying--"And THAT'S why it's bad to eat fish."

1 comment:

sjhollist said...

I came out of this movie feeling bad for all the little kids that didn't realize they had just been preached to about how horrible us Humans spoidly are, and how we should blaim our religous leaders for our inability to change things for the better.

I just linked to this post from one of my own (, as I found the perspective very helpful to the point I was trying to make.