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Animated musical a spectacle of light and sound

Tae Andrews | Sunday, April 1, 2007

This emperor penguin marches to his own tune. “Happy Feet” follows the story of Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood), a tap-happy tike in a tuxedo suit. After his father Memphis (Hugh Jackman) drops him as an egg, Mumble emerges from his shell as a bouncing baby penguin with a snazzy spring to his step.

Bitten by the jitterbug at birth, Mumble can dance circles around the other baby penguins. Unfortunately for Mumble, all that fancy footwork is of no use as he searches to find his own Heartsong to express himself and vie for the affections of the lovely Gloria (Brittany Murphy). Not only can young Mumble not carry a tune – his voice sounds like the noise of a dying giraffe. His off-key crooning makes it hard for Mumble to harmonize with the rest of the Emperor penguin clan. As a result, Mumble strikes out on his own in order to make his voice heard.

Basically, “Happy Feet” is a jazzed-up version of “March of the Penguins,” or maybe “March of the Penguins: The Musical.” The film’s many musical numbers combine a modern flair with a showtime sentiment. If you listen carefully, you can catch snippets of songs both old and new from a slew different genres. All the jumping, jiving and wailing of the tuxedo-clad penguins milling around brings to mind the chaotic choreography of a Broadway musical.

The vocal cast of “Happy Feet” is just awesome. Old pro Robin Williams is hilarious in his three narrator roles. He’s also hilarious as Ramon, the leader of a pack of smaller (and apparently Mexican) tail-chasing penguins who befriend young Mumble. He also excels as Lovelace, a wisened penguin guru who doubles as a minister of soul and a penguin pimp, replete with his own brothel of lovely flippered ladies.

Hugh Jackman stars as Memphis, Mumble’s somewhat-less-than proud papa. Much like Donner, the reindeer father of Rudolph, Memphis is ashamed of his son’s unique talents and wants him to blend into the status quo. Delivering his lines with an Elvis drawl, Jackman is perfect at adding flavor to his character.

It should also be mentioned that Brittany Murphy scintillates as Gloria, Mumble’s love interest. At times sexy and sweet, Murphy brings a lot to the role and showcases some genuine pipes during the film’s frequent and endearing musical numbers.

“Happy Feet” has elements of Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth,” only wrapped up in an adorable bunch of baby penguin fur. The message? Stop polluting and warming the globe so you don’t destroy the habitat for these cuddly little creatures. Oh, and do remember to cut the plastic linings of six-packs so you don’t choke any harmless penguins.

Like the best animated films, “Happy Feet” has something for everyone. As fun family fare, the film pairs kid gags with jokes designed to sail clear over the heads of the children in the audience and land squarely on the adults’ sense of humor, such as a series of thinly veiled mating references.

If you haven’t seen “Happy Feet” yet, know this: imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. In fact, the film’s popularity spawned a popular YouTube video of “Happy Feet,” in which the penguins boogey down and “walk it out” to the bumping beats of DJ Unk’s hip-hop beat by the same name.

Splendidly rendered, the animation of “Happy Feet” is nothing short of breathtaking as the camera leaps, zooms and soars over the gorgeous CGI landscape of Antarctica. The musical numbers and medleys are also some of the best animated pieces done in a while.

“Happy Feet” is a spectacle of light, sound and, most importantly, story. With great characters, comedy and a whole lot of penguins, the movie is a resounding hit. That’s no small feat.