Combustible Celluloid
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With: Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Brittany Murphy, Hugo Weaving, Anthony LaPaglia, Miriam Margolyes, Magda Szubanski, E.G. Daily (a.k.a. Elizabeth Daily)
Written by: George Miller, Warren Coleman, John Collee
Directed by: George Miller
MPAA Rating: PG for some mild peril and rude humor
Running Time: 98
Date: 11/15/2006

Happy Feet (2006)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Tap City

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Several studios have sent their latest computer-animated children's films out into the field, each hoping to one-up the other. But the truth is that virtually every single one so far has been more or less the same, each using the same themes and formulae, and even the same jokes (don't ever give a caffeinated beverage to a squirrel).

Thankfully George Miller, the man behind the Mad Max and Babe movies, has decided to shake things up a bit. His new film Happy Feet tap dances the rest of this year's family films into irrelevance. It's the first such film this year to actually engage in the act of storytelling, moving the viewer ahead in totally unexpected directions.

In Antarctica, two Emperor penguins, Norma Jean (voiced by Nicole Kidman) and Memphis (voiced by Hugh Jackman) fall in love (while channeling Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley). Just like we learned in March of the Penguins, they go through their mating and feeding rituals, and Mumble (voiced as a baby by E.G. Daily and later by Elijah Wood) is born. But while most penguins find their "heart song," and practice their singing, Mumble's only talent lies in his tap-dancing (Savion Glover was motion captured to provide Mumble's footwork).

Though rather than the expected "be-true-to-yourself" story, Mumble must trundle off to an epic journey of true excitement and terror. His only companions are four smaller penguins from a different tribe (with Mexican accents, for some reason). Robin Williams provides two voices and Brittany Murphy sings and voices Mumble's love interest, Gloria.

As with his other films, Miller's camerawork is impeccable and utterly breathtaking; he presents certain flying/falling sequences with a unique "birds-eye-view" technique, as if a camera had been mounted around the neck of its subject. Yet, rather than depicting chaos, the result is startlingly clear. When the young penguins first learn to swim, he choreographs a breathtaking underwater ballet; the bubble trails in the water lay out the complex patterns.

Since the film is a musical, he goes the Moulin Rouge! route and recycles pop songs ranging from the Beach Boys and Stevie Wonder to more recent hits, and the resulting soundtrack is a bit mixed, but ultimately joyous.

Viewers who were offended by the darkness in Miller's last film, the great Babe: Pig in the City (1998), should be forewarned, however: there's more of the same here. But anyone bored silly with the rest of the typical, gutless kid stuff will want to groove with Happy Feet.

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