2011, (voices of) Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, Pink, Hank Azaria plus other well-known actors. Directed by George Miller.
What is it about penguins that make them so lovable? I mean, really? So the whole “waddling around like a fat butler in a tuxedo” is pretty cute, but beyond that… Penguins don’t have the regal aura that swans do, they live in some of the most inhospitable climates in the world, they can’t fly, they are actually rather silly looking. Still, we’ve been fascinated with them as sweet, adorable cartoon characters for decades. I present Chilly Willy (1953) and Tennessee Tuxedo (1963) as Exhibits A and B, respectively. (If you are too young to remember either of them, Google it like I did.)
Whatever it is that attracts us to penguins, the original Happy Feet movie ramped it up another order of magnitude with its beautiful story of Mumble, the penguin who couldn’t sing like the others and was ridiculed for his incredible dancing abilities. A misunderstood outsider, he was shunned. After a series of coming-of-age adventures, Mumble eventually embraced his uniqueness and saved the colony from starvation, winning their respect and admiration. Of course he also won the heart of the most beautiful girl penguin, and they settled down as soulmates to live happily ever after.
One of the best things about the first Happy Feet movie was the fantastic music and – if possible – it’s even better in the second one. This time around Mumble and Gloria have joined the ranks of parent penguins and are raising their little chick Eric who has fewer problems fitting in than Mumble did, but still needs to find confidence in his own uniqueness. Other favorite characters from the first movie are back as well. It just wouldn’t be nearly as good without Ramon, voiced by Robin Williams. There are also a couple of new characters, Will and Bill the krill, voiced by Matt Damon and Brad Pitt who deliver some hilarious action and commentary on the plight of those near the bottom of the food chain. There is even a one-of-a-kind penguin who may not be all that he claims to be. When disaster befalls the penguin colony, it is up to Mumble and some of the chicks to seek help with a large-scale rescue. Once again, they learn that survival depends on everyone working together.
Both of the Happy Feet movies are beautifully animated with spectacular music and great environmental lessons for everyone. The delicate ecosystem that is our planet can’t help but react to major shifts and changes. When those shifts and changes are driven by humankind’s interference with the natural order of things, there are unforeseen consequences impacting various habitats with a ripple effect that may come back to bite us. The only way to correct the problem is to put aside differences and work cooperatively. I can’t think of a better way to teach children about love, sacrifice, determination, respect for uniqueness, and care for the environment than through such a fun and entertaining film.
Cartoon characters have come a long, long way from the likes of Chilly Willy and Tennessee Tuxedo. They were cute and funny, fine for children, but they just didn’t have the depth and dimension of personality that we want in our characters on the big screen. The Happy Feet movies are right up there in scope and accomplishment with Toy Story, How to Train Your Dragon, Ratatouille, The Lion King, and any number of movies with compelling characters and great stories that just happen to be animated. Hopefully we won’t have such a long wait for Happy Feet Three.