Saturday, November 25, 2006

happy feet

Paul’s note: This is Scott’s sixth contribution to (at least) one cool thing. Previously he has written about music, television, movies, travel and a game. Scott writes:

One of the finer moments in life is the brief period of bemused amnesia that falls between the end of the previews and remembering which movie you came to see.

The opening scene of Happy Feet , with its Crab Nebula and cosmic space clouds, gave no fast closure to that span of time, but it did promise something more than just your basic dancing penguin story.

But what to make of this odd tale? As per usual, I tried my hardest not to read in advance anything that might give the faintest hint as to the story line. But I had seen a brief clip of an excellently produced and syncopated dancing Peruvian penguin (comically voiced by Robin Williams) earlier this year, and was eagerly awaiting the final product.

As the opening scene foretold, this isn’t your basic animated children’s story. At its heart, it is your standard odd-kid-gets-ostracized-then-tries-to-prove-himself tale, but the odd twists and serious turns it takes are not as simple. For this reason, I think it leaves some of its younger audience behind. I took my two daughters – aged 6 and 3 – and the reviews were mixed. Though both were fully on-board as the silly penguin Eggshell did the jig on his wobbly first legs, the youngest was soon turned away by some of the darker and more scary scenes.

Serious topics are no stranger to children’s tales, but one thing dampens this movie. The producers went to great lengths to mimic the environment of the Emperor penguin colony in the effects, and the dark blues, heavy atmosphere and languid hues can’t help but bring down the tone of the film.

The filmmakers countered this whenever possible, with campy dance numbers, funny side characters, and clever jokes. But in the end there wasn’t enough counterweight to the scary leopard seals, skuas, Orcas and elephant seals to resurrect the final vote of the 3-year-old.

For those a little older, and for the adults, fortunately, there are many redeeming qualities. First and foremost are the effects, which are stunning and beautiful. Second is the voice acting, most notably by Williams who played the hilarious Adelie penguin Ramon, in addition to the wise and wise-cracking Rockhopper guru Lovelace. A distant third is the story line, which comes off as a little forced. Further still (for this parent) are the dance numbers, most of which fall somewhere between contrived and cliché.

All in all, the movie is worth a watch, but it comes short of the grand promises of the opening scene. The youngest should wait until they have the safety of the sofa, but the middle and older kids will find enough to laugh at and sing with to give it their little thumbs up. Parents, meanwhile, won’t mind sitting in for the ride, and will have fun trying to catch all of the adult lines. A cool thing, yes, but not quite a film to get up and dance about.