Have you ever wondered what would happen if you replaced people dancing in sync, as you often see in music videos, with penguins? Yes, that would be the most adorable thing you could ever wish to see in Antarctica. Happy Feet, directed by George Miller of “Mad Max” fame, is a gripping and inspiring story of Mumble, a young penguin who challenges the traditions of his folk.
What is Happy Feet about?
This beautifully animated story addresses such issues as friendship and love, intergenerational conflict and coming-of-age. The protagonist, an emperor penguin named Mumble by his parents, Memphis and Norma Jean. He’s bright, good-looking and courageous, yet he’s got one flaw – he cannot sing. Why would he? Because, as we learn at the beginning, emperor penguins have to sing their “heartsongs” to attract a mate. And there is a potential mate, Gloria, whose attention Mumble tries to get, but he never sings. Instead, he tap dances. Impressive, right? However, his elders are not amazed, and he is eventually exiled for tap dancing instead of singing. He faces a long road before he can go back to his folk and prove his ways are as good as the traditional ones.
The movie displays an environmental message, too. At some point, Mumble’s friend, Lovelace, claims to have been given a gift by some mystic beings (which is, in fact, a set of plastic rings that hold a six-pack of beer). During another encounter, a skua bird admits he has been abducted by aliens and tagged with a yellow band. As the identity of the aliens becomes rather obvious, we learn that this icy world is being slowly taken over and, to make things worse, riddled with rubbish.
There are some scary moments as well as the creators of Happy Feet do not hesitate to show the dangers penguins may face. A dynamic sequence showing them sliding down an ice channel, a leopard seal attacking our hero, a duo of killer whales cruelly toying with young penguins, with the latter only able to escape at the last moment and with a great amount of luck, all these scenes may produce strong emotions, but there is always a happy ending.
As the story is about penguins that sing to be able to form families and an outsider who prefers tap dancing to singing, there are songs aplenty. The most notable is Boogie Wonderland which features Gloria, our protagonist’s love interest, taking the vocal part while Mumble shows off his tap dancing skills, counterpointing the song. Although Gloria is impressed, his father and the elders fail to show appreciation for his dancing preferences which ends in him being driven away.
The show continues when Mumble, roaming with his “Amigos”, a group of Adelie penguins, splits with them in an attempt to catch up with a fishing boat and gets to Florida where he is taken to a marine park and kept with other species of penguins. Again, his tap dancing skills earn him a way out as he is eventually released, but with a tracking device on his back. Equipped with this contraption, he manages to get back to his homeland, win the hearts of his fellow penguins, even the most sceptical of the elders, and to influence the actions of people who send a team of researchers to evaluate the situation.
Good entertainment and a message to the audience
As love (and tap dancing) conquers all, our young ones may learn that we need to follow our hearts and show a great deal of determination in pursuing our goals. However, we need to care for animals and try to limit the amount of trash we generate. Otherwise, a penguin may get strangled by the plastic rings from a six-pack, which is a light-hearted yet compelling demonstration of what people are doing to the Earth. These undertones counterpoint a generally light tone of the movie which is both a great adventure and a lesson on how to deal with emotions and struggles.
Compelling visuals, great voice acting, and nice songs are enough to recommend Happy Feet as pure entertainment, but we already know it’s much more than that. It is also a perfect way to learn English! All animals shown in the picture remain true to their original appearance, with their landmark features portrayed quite accurately, and anthropomorphism is generally limited to their behaviour, to allow children to relate with the protagonists. Happy Feet is an excellent show of passion, movie-making skills and care for a better future.