Culture > Movies

Bait and switch

Movies | Happy Feet jumps into some surprisingly angry territory

Issue: "Kids' books," Dec. 2, 2006

Previews for Happy Feet give moviegoers no idea what they are in for. For half of the one-hour, 40-minute flick, Happy Feet (rated PG for mild peril and rude humor) behaves like a traditional children's animated film. It's beautiful. It's filled with talking animals. It's cute, although somewhat nonsensical. But with about 40 minutes remaining, Happy Feet takes a most displeasing turn-one so harsh and unnecessary, parents should avoid taking children to the film.

At first Australian filmmaker George Miller's Happy Feet seems like a digitized musical version of the hit documentary March of the Penguins. Miller uses March's basic survival plot to set up his tale of one Emperor Penguin that can't sing (a mating prerequisite in Miller's imagined land). Though the muted bird, appropriately named Mumble, can tap dance, he's ostracized from the group. Apart from his kind in Antarctica, Mumble survives a few scares but eventually meets a group of smaller, somehow more Latino, penguins. After a few wacky adventures with the group of smaller penguins, Mumble and his musical gang encounter the dreaded and feared humans.

And that's really when Happy Feet takes a sharp turn from an ebullient musical to a heavy-handed message movie that feels distracted and especially angry. There is nothing happy about the dark final 40 minutes as George Miller unleashes a political screed aimed at overfishing and human littering, among other things. Mumble goes after the humans, now "aliens," lands himself-predictably-in a zoo and summons a montage of fast-paced talking points on environmentalism. Miller also unleashes on religion, lampooning the Emperor Penguin establishment as blinded to reality by religious dogma.

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It's dark and sad in ways that children -especially young children-won't understand. And parents won't see it coming-it's all bait for an environmentalist and anti-religion presentation that could make some moviegoers wonder if they accidentally stepped into Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. Beware.


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