By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
Tap-dancing penguins could never have been pitched if the mega-hit doc Marching Penguins (2005) had not caught the imagination of every breathing human. Only this time around Happy Feet is not a doc but a high-class animation (from the director of the very humane Babe) and much more anthropomorphic than Marching Penguins.
Despite too many themes such as individualism and environmental destruction, Happy Feet's special effects take animation as close to 3-D as could be possible in a 2-D medium. One scene with frolicking penguins careening down a mountain has the sight and sound of rapid descent so authentic as to make me cringe at each turn for fear of flying off the snow into the sky. The colors are luminous and the long and helicopter-like shots stunning enough to make you feel you're watching IMAX.
Mumble (voice of Elijah Wood) has no singing voice, so he can't sing a "heartsong," the signature croon of a male to attract a female for life. But as Nature frequently compensates, that boy can dance. A hard-to-accept-it dad (Hugh Jackman) laments, "It just ain't penguin." The adventures of this hippity-hop outcast bring him to a band of diminutive Latinos headed by a savvy Ramon (Robin Williams), who helps him to find his inner heartsong in his feet and eventually the source of fish depletion (the "aliens" are a familiar race of buccaneers?us).
Along the way Mumble finds soulful love with Gloria (Brittney Murphy), a young lady strong in song and belief in Mumble. Speaking of song, much of the score, while replete with pop standards from the likes of the Beach Boys and Sinatra, adapts several gospel tunes to accentuate the theme of a savior being rejected by his own kind.
Happy Feet is a happy film that features unparalleled CG while it teaches young and old about tolerance and talent. This is the season for the tuxedo crowd?shaken and stirred.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm and on demand anytime. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com