Still riding high on the popularity of last year's successful 'March of the Penguins', our favourite Antarctic friends are back in an animated adventure that only just fails to reach the high standards set by the best of its predecessors.
In the current world of animation we are being overfed with poor efforts mixing fairytales with movie parodies. The past year has been particularly bad with releases such as 'Barnyard', 'Over the Hedge' and 'Hoodwinked' have sounded like a good idea but failed to engross and enrapture their audiences. For every nine or ten releases of their ilk we are normally treated to one truly great effort.
'Finding Nemo', 'Toy Story', 'Monsters Inc' and 'Shrek' have set the standard extremely high (not to mention the work of Nick Park at Aardman Animations) and too many efforts concentrate on paying homage to these works rather than concentrating on their own strengths and uniqueness. This is where 'Happy Feet' stands out as it manages to stay in touch with its own background. The comedy, romance, music and imagination are mixed wonderfully together before being slightly let down by an ill-advised environmental message that doesn't keep in touch with the true charm of the tale.
We return to the world that 'March of the Penguins' introduced us to: the Antarctic breeding grounds of Emperor penguins. Here we meet Memphis (Jackman) and Norma Jean (Kidman) - the parents of our hero Mumble (Wood) - as they commence their mating ritual. We learn that penguins are drawn to each other by their very own heart song. Explained simply - a couple will be drawn to each other by singing in harmony.
However, Mumble suffers an unfortunate incident when he is still an egg that affects his voice and he is unable to carry a tune. Instead of a song his heart is filled with a love of dance and he taps along happily to the rhythm of the life that surrounds him. Sadly for him that is not enough for the penguin community and all but his mother and his unhappy father cast him aside.
Though failing to graduate with all the other young penguins that have found their heart song he tags along on their first trip to the sea and falls for Gloria, the most sought after of all the females. Not being able to fit into a society where singing is the most important activity he falls in with a crowd of streetwise penguins who teach him how to live his life as a unique individual.
Sadly though for Mumble, the elders in his world have chosen to blame the shortage of fish on his erratic behaviour angering the Gods that they worship. Eager to prove his innocence, Mumble sets off on a quest to prove that he is not the one responsible for the once bountiful seas becoming empty.
This is where the movie loses touch with its soul. Up to this point the combination of romance, comedy and music set this aside from most other animated movies. The comic timing is brilliant and you will find yourself laughing out loud as your foot taps along to the many remixes of popular music that spring up along the way.
However, when Mumble sets off to try and stop the world from plundering the fish from the oceans you get the feeling that there is more at play than a writer trying to tell a story about an out-of-place penguins trying to fit in. So where 'Happy Feet' succeeds in being a wonderful animated tale it fails miserably to convey its environmental message.
Children are not given enough credit with the simplistic nature of the ending. Animation, though out of this world, should still - to some extent - be believable. The thought that a tap-dancing penguin can save the world, instead of just making his society accept differences in each other, completely lacks credibility. It also takes us away from the main setting of the movie and introduces a new plot-line too late in the events. Ironically, the introduction of humans spoils the events.
The cast are all comfortable as voice actors, though the use of Robin Williams in a number of different roles was bordering on a little too much. Elijah Wood gives Mumble a depth and personality that is easy to identify with, far more so that his performance as Frodo. There is also the posthumous voice of Steve Irwin, who had recorded the minor role of Kev before his tragic accident.
Despite almost losing its way at the conclusion, 'Happy Feet' is an immensely enjoyable spectacle and only the coldest-hearted person will not find themselves tapping along happily as the music plays on the final credits.