Hollywood seems to have developed a concern for the lives of penguins. Last years 'March of the penguins', a French documentary, whose English version, narrated by Morgan Freeman, became a phenomenal success because of the way it used the lives of Emperor penguins to endorse the importance of family and family values. The new computer animated film from Warner Brothers, 'Happy Feet', has a little bit of 'March of the penguins' in its soul, and a prior viewing of the documentary provides a dose of the prerequisite background information about how the mating function between these birds works. But 'Happy Feet' richly diversifies itself by diving into the exploration of many different film genres, from being a Bollywood like song and dance musical to even becoming a curious blend of science fiction and the plethora of Alien invasion films, albeit from a flip perspective. All of this, and it features what is perhaps the best pixel animated sequences ever put to screen; high compliment in a year that has already seen Pixar release one film already (but more on that later).
The story is basically 'Billy Elliot' set in the frozen Arctic landscape and with a penguin playing the role of the ostracized, different youngster who must learn to believe in himself. In the world of 'Happy Feet', Emperor penguins are taught to sing their 'heart song', an ability that is much needed when adulthood strikes and the search for a mate becomes imperative. Amidst the crowd of new hatched is 'Mumbles' (Elijah Wood), love child of Memphis (Hugh Jackman) and Norma Jean (Nicole Kidman). Unlike the rest of his brethren, he has a terrible voice and is unfit to sing. He can however tap dance with great zest, a talent that raises eyebrows, and much later, human curiosity as well. Left on his own, he befriends a set of Adélie penguins, who aren't as majestic as Emperors, and from this point on the film really starts to shine, not only because it excels in the humour department (the other penguins speak like Latinos – making a sly remark on racial discrimination) but also because one of these penguins is voiced by Robin Williams. Having Williams voice an animated character in your cartoon is a Godsend; in 'Happy Feet' we get Williams do double duty, also providing the voice for a zealot like figure with a six pack plastic ring stuck around his neck named 'Lovelace' who spews bad advice to his ignorant followers.
Australian director George Miller imbues 'Happy Feet' with an odd and peculiar voice – this is message movie aimed at children, which comments on the hazards of abusing Earth's natural ecosystem, but the film doesn't just stop there. It pokes fun at our fascination for the alien and the unknown and is filled to the brim with infectious songs from the last decade and beyond that are revised and revisited to suit the films theme. Miller's resume makes him a strange choice – names like the post apocalyptic sci-fi 'Mad Max', followed by the 'Babe' - but with 'Happy Feet', he hits the perfect note. If all of that isn't enough to convince you, know this as well; the animation in 'Happy Feet' is like nothing I've ever seen before, including the high quality material that Pixar has released over the years, and that is no exaggeration. This is also the first film that blends live action with computer animation in some sequences (think 'Roger Rabbit', but with pixel animation instead of hand drawn) and they are as seamless as technology today will allow. I wasn't expecting to like this film so much. Truth is, I was prepared for the worst, what with the promise of songs and all that dancing. But the cynical side of me eventually gave in, and so should you. - Faizan Rashid