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Review: Happy Feet

Happy Feet is a film of uncanny political resonance.

Happy Feet
Photo: Warner Bros.

George Miller’s Happy Feet is a film of uncanny political resonance—every bit as rich as the year’s other great animation, Monster House. Miller, who hasn’t made a movie since the brilliant Babe: Pig and the City, allows the behaviors of emperor penguins in deepest Antarctica to reflect our contemporary political anxieties. Crisis in Happy Feet is not just existential but cosmic, but the film derives only part of its poetry from an evocation of spirits lighting up the skies above Antarctica. There are suspicious bumps in the film’s road for sure, like Nicole Kidman, whose presence here seems to be an excuse for the penguins to indulge in Moulin Rouge-style medley singing (these little buggers are so, like, postmodern), but Miller maintains a context in which every one of the story’s fantasies make sense, like the penguins singing Prince when they’re wooing each other and Grandmaster Flash when frustration is on their mind. It is to this clan that Mumble (Elijah Wood) is born, a queer critter whose adorable tapping “just ain’t penguin”; a product of nature (Mumble’s father, voiced by Hugh Jackman, dropped the boy’s egg during gestation), these crazy feet are not just a symbol of Mumble’s identity but a challenge to the status quo. But acceptance is not the only thing on Miller’s mind: He conjures an immigrant crisis when Mumble’s new friends, visiting from terrain that is no doubt south of the film’s prime Antarctic real estate, are made scapegoats for the area’s diminishing food supply by a very congressional group of elders (one of them admonishes the visitors for their “backsliding,” a word meant to evoke “wetbacks”). Difference is scary in Happy Feet, but it also opens a healthy dialogue when a rejected but empowered Mumble sets out to expose and rectify a very inconvenient truth. His appeal to a little girl—an “alien” to the penguins—late in the film is a profound articulation of the nature of the political process, from the resistance that often stunts progress to the communication that almost always facilitates it. A last-act bit of live-action is a slab of cheese that hits the film like a sledgehammer, but even this gesture stands as an example of Miller’s impressive risk-taking.

Cast: Elijah Wood, Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, Brittany Murphy, Hugo Weaving, Robin Williams, Johnny A. Sanchez, Carlos Alazraqui, Lombardo Boyar, Jeff Garcia, Steve Irwin, Anthony LaPaglia, Miriam Margolyes Director: George Miller Screenwriter: Warren Coleman, John Collee, George Miller, Judy Morris Distributor: Warner Bros. Running Time: 108 min Rating: PG Year: 2006 Buy: Video, Soundtrack

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