The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

It takes more than a pretty fur to make an excellent penguin movie

with 22 comments

My kids aren’t kids anymore. They’re grown-ups.

I finally had to acknowledge it after a recent confrontation over Happy Feet.

By accident I had won it in a lottery and now that I had it I thought we could as well watch it, so I suggested we’d do it together, making it into a come-together-in-the-family event.

But my girls reminded me that they were 17 and 19, not 7 and 9. They’d be perfectly happy to join me for the next upcoming Woody Allen movie, but made it clear that the position of animated movies in our household had changed. They were now museum objects, a part of our history, reduced to being objects for nostalgic affection. My only chance to watch Happy Feet in company with a kid would be to put it on hold until the potential arrival of grandchildren in the future.

I pushed out my lower lip and sulked a little (mostly over my 19 year old moving away from home next weekend.) Then I shrugged and decided to watch Happy Feet on my own. Who needs a child as an excuse to watch animated films anyway? Not me. Dignity as well as company for movie watching is overrated. Besides this one actually had won an Oscar in 2007. That surely must have meant something?

Or did it? That’s the question. I’m frankly not entirely sure it did.

But let’s start with the good stuff: the prettiness of it. The animation is pretty amazing at times. The furs look like you imagine a penguin fur would look. They swim like penguins would swim (apart from in the action scenes, but well, that’s action you know). The airborne scenes where you see thousands and thousands of penguin fathers protecting the penguin eggs looked could have been taken straight out of a documentary about penguin life. Well if it wasn’t for that the penguins once in a while broke out in singing and tap dancing, which looked kind of believable too, as believable as a dancing penguin can be. It must have been awesome to watch on a big screen.

Strange pacing
Unfortunately there are other components to the movie that don’t quite match the level of the visuals, such as the pacing and the storytelling. There is something strange about how the whole thing is put together. It’s as if they had two movies in their mind and couldn’t make up their mind about which to do, so they did both with a sudden switch in the middle.

The first and longest part deals with the issue of being different to everyone else. I don’t know if you remember the children book Spotty by Margret Rey about a dotted rabbit born in a family of one-colored rabbits who has a hard time to become accepted. Happy Feet is pretty much the same, but in this case it’s a penguin which has a talent for tap dancing when everyone else is more into singing. It’s a story we’ve hard many times before, but it’s worth telling since feeling like an outsider is a problem that I think many children (and adults) can relate to. I think this part of the movie works fairly well, although it becomes a tad slow at points when the musical numbers are a bit too frequent and long.

Perhaps the film makers too felt a creeping sense of slowness, because all of a sudden the film takes a twist into a completely different story about environmental protection, telling us that you should be nice to the animals, at least as long as they’re into tap dancing. The hero travels with the speed of a lightening to a zoo where he by intensive tapping of his feet contacts the humans and makes them realize that they’d better stop stealing the fish from the penguins.

At this point I imagine someone at the production company threw an eye at the stopwatch and realized that the film already had become way too long for the young audience.

“We need to think about the kids! They’ve got small bladders you know and they’ve already had too much soda. We’d better put this to an end, asap!”

And before we know it we’re back to the penguin colony and everyone is dancing in what apparently is the final show number and I’m sitting there, scratching my head, wondering what just happened.

The lack of company
I thought Happy Feet was absolutely okay, but not excellent. It takes more than pretty fur for that. But perhaps my major issue wasn’t at all about the movie but my own lack of company.

In the end there’s nothing that can increase your appreciation of a film as much as hearing your child praising it wholeheartedly when it’s over.

Happy Feet (George Miller, AU/US 2006) My rating: 3,5/5

Written by Jessica

February 8, 2012 at 1:00 am

Posted in Happy Feet

22 Responses

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  1. Happy Feet is very childish, and I’m not a fan of it at all. But it’s disappointing to hear your daughters’ position on animated films. Happy Feet might be for small kids, but there are plenty of great animated films that are truly great for anybody of any age. Beauty and the Beast. The Iron Giant. Ratatouille. All great films.

    Corey Atad

    February 8, 2012 at 1:22 am

    • It’s not that they hate animated movies. Absolutely not. But I can’t assemble the family in front of Happy Feet anymore. They love to dive into their own sessions of nostalgia though. Recently one of the rewatched The Lion King for instance and was all wrapped up in it. I think they have a fairly good taste for movies.


      February 8, 2012 at 1:30 pm

  2. I hate this film with a passion. A possibly unreasonable passion, but still.

    I found the ideology presented in the film to be abhorrent. The penguins did nothing to save themselves. Because the one penguin amused more powerful beings, those capricious beings deigned to interfere and save the penguins. To me it brought to mind that the only reason the penguins were worth saving was because they were entertaining. That if they weren’t entertaining, it would be perfectly reasonable to let them die.

    This was reinforced by the music. I thought the penguin’s singing was gorgeous. But apparently singing in that fashion is not entertaining enough to be worth saving. Instead you have to dance like a common vaudeville entertainer to be worthy.

    To me, most children’s movies teach the values of independence, of self-reliance. This one went in the opposite direction, teaching that’s okay to be dependent on others, so long as you entertain them in the right fashion. An attitude reminiscent of serfs and masters.


    February 8, 2012 at 1:27 am

    • Hehe, maybe your hatred is a bit unreasonable but it was a fun read though! If you put it that way I can definitely agree on that some of the underlying messages are questionable.


      February 8, 2012 at 1:31 pm

  3. I am not into singing and dancing movies but I loved Happy Feet. And I am sure it was not because I live just 300 meters from George Miller’s fantastic house in Castlecrag. Sorry, irrelevant fact I know. Of course tap dancing is not part of the normal ritual of penguins but they do dance to find a mate they like. Try follow up by watching March of the Penguins. That is the real thing and you will see that the Happy Feet makers actually have studied penguin behaviour. Not to speak of life imitating fiction. Remember the Emperor penguin that turned up in New Zealand in June last year and made such a success? Of course named “Happy Feet” after the similar epic journey in the film. I agree that the transportation in the movie seemed a bit quick and the real life penguin got eaten on his way back to Antarctica. But Happy Feet has to cater for the young audience so you cannot let the main character die. And if you did there would be no Happy Feet 2.

    Science Guru

    February 8, 2012 at 7:57 am

    • You live 300 metres from him? Don’t try to tell me you’re not biased. 🙂
      I haven’t seen March of the Penguins myself, but I’ve heard much good about it and that it probably was an inspirational source for this one, so I’d love to check it out. I’d better see if my lirbary has it.

      And Happy Feet 2, yes, that one is playing now. I’ve actually got two tickets for it, that were included in the prize. I probably should use them now that I’ve seen the first one. (Yes, I’m cheap!)


      February 8, 2012 at 1:36 pm

  4. Strangely my girls enjoyed the sequel more than this one. They found the first a little boring, and the second has the KRILL which made up for it’s short comings.

    thanks Jess

    Scott Lawlor

    February 8, 2012 at 10:06 am

    • Kermode seemed to like the sequel a lot better too. I might get to see it if I hurry up. I have two tickets for free for it.


      February 8, 2012 at 1:37 pm

  5. Yeah, it was OK but not very good.

    As for animation movies, I still like to see them but of course, only the good ones. Or well, pretty much anything that comes out of the Pixar Studios.


    February 8, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    • Cars2 as well? I haven’t seen it myself, but that one seemed to be very disappointing. I hope it’s not the sign of a decline in their quality.


      February 8, 2012 at 1:38 pm

      • Haven’t seen it yet due to it’s low score reviews. Wall-E, Ratatouille and Up were very good though. And I liked Toy Story 3. Let’s hope their next movies are more like these three.


        February 8, 2012 at 7:33 pm

  6. It’s kind of funny to think that if we lived in the world of FINDING NEMO, everyone in HAPPY FEET would be a vicious murderer.


    February 8, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    • Hehe! I didn’t think of that, but you’re perfectly right! The topic for Happy Feet 3: The Fish vs The Penguins


      February 8, 2012 at 6:52 pm

      • Thank you both for the splorfle moment! Am now wishing I had the know-how to do an Alien v Predator style mock trailer for it…!


        February 8, 2012 at 8:19 pm

  7. Animation quality being the most focused on part of computer animation seems to have been a running trend.

    But as to your girls, sit them down and tell them if they can watch the first ten minutes of Up and not want to cry, then they’ve proven they’re too big for animated movies.

    (This is in fact impossible, so you can rope them in for more cartoony fun!)

    • My oldest one is moving away from home on this Saturday. She’s a grown-up now I reckon. And the younger is more interested in her bf than watching animated films with me. But I’ve heard so much good about Up, so that’s one I definitely want to check out for myself. I bet I’ll cry!


      February 9, 2012 at 6:57 pm

      • If my very trustworthy source is to be believed (that is, if my mother’s right), her being a grown-up does not change that much of things… just try to imagine when you’re 90 and she’s 65 (no idea about your age, numbers chosen randomly :). You’ll sit her down, and tell her that this 5D is some newfangled nonsense usually, but they should watch this particular movie with you because great storytelling will always be great storytelling.


        February 11, 2012 at 4:13 pm

        • I hope we’ll have many good movie experiences to share in the future. And at that age we’re hopefully old enough to be prepared to negotiate a bit.


          February 12, 2012 at 9:54 pm

  8. Maybe I should have needed the emotional state of saying goodbye to my oldest for Happy Feet. Anyway, I’m sort of glad that I didn’t watch it with a child because I’m not sure how I would have handlede the possible situation of the child liking this drivel.

    Waaaay too much schmaltz overall but what really made me throw up over the whole thing mentally was the message that animals are only interesting to people when they perform. Also, the genus-o-meter was not amused…


    February 12, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    • The message is questionable indeed. My genus-o-meter didn’t react particularly much but that probably is just because I’ve seen too much. I don’t react when I should.


      February 12, 2012 at 9:59 pm

  9. Well I´ve only seen the movie once but I liked it a lot. One of the things i liked was that i was kind of slow and i was i smple story. I Might been simple minded when i saw 😉 it but it was quite good.


    February 15, 2012 at 8:50 pm

    • There’s nothing like a straightforward, simple story when you’re in the right mood. I think movie watching is a lot about that. Matching your mood with the right movie. If you don’t even the most wonderful movies can come out very badly.


      February 16, 2012 at 7:55 am

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