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