Kevin Bacon’s turn in “Footloose” as a streetwise teenager from a tough Chicago neighbourhood who “just wanted to dance” is an indelible part of the American pop culture. When the film came out critic Richard Corliss likened it to Nicholas Ray’s seminal “Rebel Without a Cause” for celebrating the democracy and values of youth. Similar connections can be made to “Happy Feet,” which has allegories of defiance, angst, disparity of communication between parents and children, and the ideological divide between generations.
It’s a really clever film that may appear, superficially, only for children; it has everything that kids respond to: songs, obvious humour, cute, talking animals. But had “Happy Feet” been only about those things it would still work because it does them all well. However, the film is more — here’s an animated feature that like Disney’s nimble “The Lion King” is about the idea of growing up burdened with the weight of moral excellence, about the fiery ambition to diverge from the cultural status quo and not (as most of us do) succumb to credulous social conformity. Because “Happy Feet” wears the sobriety under its carefully put-on mask of regalement, because it is able to offer seemingly portentous life lessons without blatant hot-dogging, the film succeeds at transcending both genre and demographic. “Happy Feet” has the courage to treat its audience as thoughtful and intelligent and capable of looking past barefaced entertainment. That’s a rare trait for any film. And this is why it’s memorable.
“Happy Feet” is directed and co-written by George Miller who gained much recognition for his cyperpunk cult hit “Mad Max,” a film about vigilantism and revenge. Although this is a change of pace for Miller, hints of his trademark subversion are ever present. Let’s consider the character of Noah the Edler (voiced by Hugo Weaving), the penguin leader of a close-knit community on the Antarctica ice: he fears that what is different and in opposition to their old-age social fiber. Singing is a way of life for this particular penguin society, and when it is discovered that our story’s hero Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood) tap-dances instead of singing he is shunned and branded “un-penguin.” At Mumble’s graduation ceremony, as his peers celebrate their academic achievements, he stands alone and isolated. At one point in the film, Noah the Elder who is angry and threatened by Mumble’s rising popularity mocks him publicly: “dissent leads to division, and division leads to defeat…we’re dying of hunger, and you want to hippity hop?!?”
“Happy Feet’s” greatest triumph is the earnest exploration of alienation and its vehement assertion that being different is OK. This is a powerful and noble suggestion that should resonate with anyone — especially children, the film’s primary target viewers — who suffers the restraints of conventionality.
- by Adnan Khan [Rated 4.5 out of 5]