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Happy Feet: DVD Review

By Chris Boylan
The Film

Oscar loves penguins. And by Oscar I mean the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. For 2005, penguins won the best documentary Academy Award, with "March of the Penguins." And the flightless fowl did it again in 2006 with "Happy Feet" taking home the Oscar for best animated film.

It's hard to believe "Happy Feet" was brought to us by the makers of the gritty post-apocalyptic action flick, "Mad Max" (Kennedy-Miller Productions, specifically director/producer George Miller), but apparently Mr. Miller has mellowed a bit over time. He also directed the tear-jerker dedicated-mom-in-search-of-a-cure piece, "Lorenzo's Oil." If nothing else, Mr. Miller is surely versatile.

It seems you can't have an animated film without a message these days. For "Cars," the message was to stop and smell the roses - enjoy life for the journey, not the destination. For "Happy Feet," it is to dare to be different - embrace your natural gifts and talents no matter how strange they may seem to your peers, your family, and your community leaders.

For Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood), the happy-go-lucky blue-eyed "star" of Happy Feet, this gift entails an uncontrollable desire to dance, dance, dance, all night long. You see the standard Emperor Penguin mode of expression is the penguin song. Each penguin is born with a certain knack for singing and each must find his or her own unique song on the path to adult penguinhood. But every time Mumble raises his voice in "song," all that emerges is a screechy, piercing off-key shriek. Meanwhile his feet do all the talking in tippety, tappety, hippety, hoppety groovy funkadelic style.

As expected, this special talent leads to ostracism, and, eventually exile (mostly self-imposed). Mumble leaves the flock and has a series of adventures, making friends along the way, including a posse of street-smart little penguins, the "Adelie Amigos" led by the insufferably insouciant Ramon (voiced quite humorously by Robin Williams). Eventually, Mumble embarks on a quest which ultimately saves his people, wins the admiration of his community, and, most importantly, gets him the girl. "Happy Feet" may suffer from a few flaws, not the least of which its (at times) plodding pace and its neat and tidy happy ending. But it's a fun ride, nonetheless, with plenty of laughs and excitement the whole family can enjoy.

The Picture

This widescreen DVD features a 16:9 anamorphic transfer which preserves the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.4:1. So even on a widescreen TV, you will see black bars at the top and bottom of your screen. This is done so that the home version matches the shape of the theatrical release. The video transfer is as good as can be expected on a standard DVD, with some anti-aliasing and other MPEG artifacts visible in some scenes such as those with a lot of snow and light colors. Detail in darker scenes (such as the underwater sequences) is acceptable but lacking a bit of crispness. Overall, it's a good transfer limited mostly by the capabilities of the 480-line DVD format itself.

The Sound

Reminiscent of films such as Baz Luhrmann's "Moulin Rouge," "Happy Feet" effectively incorporates full songs and snippets from many popular tunes from the 1970s to today. Song lyrics begin as spoken dialog which then segues into full song and dance numbers. The score by John Powell complements these pop numbers, and sets a suitable mood, be that excitement, reckless abandon, despondence, happiness or love. Dialog is clear and crisp and easy to follow, and the perpetual tap-tap-tapping of the titular feet is conveyed effectively in the mix. The 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound (with Dolby EX enhancement) presents the film's soundtrack effectively and with proper dynamics and detail.

The Extras

There are some nice extras on the DVD, including a newly completed animation sequence that had been deleted from the original storyline - "Mumble Meets a Blue Whale." In this, the dearly departed former crocodile hunter Steve Irwin plays the voice of an albatross who accompanies Mumble on a portion of his transoceanic quest. Steve's lines were re-integrated into the final film in the role of a sea lion, but it's nice to see the original "scene" fully animated. Another animated sequence - "A Happy Feet Moment" is also included as well as a piece featuring virtual choreographer Savion Glover, whose tap-dancing powers the sonics of the film's Happy Feet, as well as being the model for the animation.

Two music videos are included as well as a cute classic Warner Bros cartoon "I Love to Singa" which features an adorable baby owl who loves to sing bebop jazz much to his opera-loving pop's dismay. This little extra was a welcome surprise as I haven't seen this particular cartoon since its inclusion on an old laserdisc boxed set - "The Golden Age of Looney Tunes." Like "Happy Feet," it illustrates the scorn and ridicule associated with possessing, and exercising an unappreciated talent. As with Happy Feet, the stern father owl eventually comes around to the beauty of his progeny's potential, even singing along with him at the cartoon's conclusion - another happy avian family comes together to embrace the joys of alternative artistic expression..

Final Thoughts

"Happy Feet" is a mostly charming and entertaining little animated film that will leave you giggling, if not rolling on the floor. Though the message is worthwhile, and Elijah Wood's Mumble is a reasonably sympathetic hero, it's the voice of Robin Williams (as Ramon and as the prophetic penguin, Lovelace) that provides most of the laughs and makes the film stand head and fins above this year's fairly lackluster competition in the animated film category. The DVD itself has no major flaws and the extras are enjoyable, if not extensive. Overall, a worthwhile viewing. but maybe something to rent before deciding whether you want to own it.

Technical Details
  • Director: George Miller
  • Written by Warren Coleman, John Collee, George Miller, Judy Morris
  • Voices: Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, Brittany Murphy, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman
  • DVD release date: March 27, 2007
  • MSRP: $28.98
  • US theatrical release date: November 17, 2006
  • Feature film running time: 109 minutes
  • Feature Film video transfer: 16:9 anamorphic widescreen transfer
  • Aspect Ratio: Widescreen, 2.4:1
  • Sound format: Dolby Digital 5.1 EX (English, French, Spanish)
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
  • Number of discs: 1
  • MPAA Rating: PG
  • Studio: Warner Home Video
  • Extras:
    • Two new fully animated sequences: "Mumble Meets a Blue Whale," "A Happy Feet Moment"
    • Private dance lesson with Savion Glover
    • Two music videos: Gia's "Hit Me Up," Prince's "The Song of the Heart"
    • Classic cartoon: "I Love to Singa"

What did you think?

View all articles by Chris Boylan
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