What follows has already been given serious treatment in the
French documentary, La Marche de l'empereur, and in David Attenborough's Planet Earth series, but is no
less touching: while the female goes fishing, the male emperor incubates the egg between his feet for two months, during an
exceptionally harsh Antarctic winter.
Disaster befalls Memphis' egg when he is momentarily distracted,
and the upshot is the hatching of Mumble (Elijah Wood), a soft-shoe boogie penguin who can't sing at all like his parents
or peers, and inadvertently ruptures all the conventions of the cloistered colony.
Forced into exile, Mumble shuffles across Ramon (Robin Williams)
and his posse of mambo-swinging amigos, smaller Adelie penguins with a penchant for stones that borders on the homicidal.
Our hero also meets their self-proclaimed oracle, Lovelace
(voiced by Williams as well), an impresario exuding alternate shades of Isaac Hayes and Barry White, who's endowed with a
sacred necklace that is, in fact, a plastic six-pack ring.
It's up to Mumble to discover himself, find his feet, and along
the way solve the mystery of a dearth of fish in the oceans...set amidst a flurry of avian song-and-dance reconsiderations,
some of which succeed - "Boogie Wonderland" and "My Way" are the stand-outs - while others fall by the artistic wayside.
Racial stereotypes don't help, and somewhat surprisingly, Jackman
and Kidman aren't able to pull off their joint homage to Presley and Monroe.
Conversely, Williams is a revelation in both his roles, there
are some choice vignettes from Anthony LaPaglia (as the leader of the mafialike gulls) and the late Steve Irwin (an ocker
elephant seal), while - on a visual level - the brilliant rollercoaster avalanche scene makes all the song-and-dance redundant.
It's through knowing references to movies like Dirty Dancing,
2001: A Space Odyssey, Dumbo, and Moby Dick, that this movie really is riotous, while a leopard seal
attack that comes straight after Mumble's botched graduation ceremony is right up there with the suspense and horror of the
shark attacks in Jaws, sans John Williams' score.
Less crooning and more carousing would've made the film perfect.
On a sublimely subversive final note, Happy Feet may
have been produced with (mostly) American big bucks - hovering around the US$100 million mark - but this is, beneath it all,
one very Australian film.
To begin with, it was cobbled together by iconic Australian
production outfit Kennedy Miller, in conjunction with Sydney-based animation studio Animal Logic.
A large chunk of the voice cast are Aussie actors: think Jackman,
Kidman, Weaving, LaPaglia, Irwin, Magda Szubanski and Nicholas McKay.
Finally, Miller - the director, cowriter and coproducer - also
hails from the antipodes.