My instinct told me to avoid Happy Feet. I did so during its theatrical run but after its Oscar win and recent DVD release I decided to give it a chance. I should have listened to my instincts. This is one of the most disappointing film experiences (animated or otherwise) I've had in a long time. I know it was immensely popular during its theatrical release but I can only hope that was due to a degree of group think because Happy Feet is a boring, dull uninspired film that can't seem to decide what it is (animated slapstick/heartfelt message movie/animated travelogue) or where it wants to go.
There are so many issues with this film it's hard to decide where to begin. Let's just look at the obvious: when it comes to dancing animals, penguins would not be the first choice. Not that they couldn't be viable character choices, but in this film they are more realistic than cartoony, so it makes the dancing feel incongruous. (Not to mention the fact that penguins all look alike, and with their duotone feather colours they aren't the most visually appealing choice.) Take a look at another 2006 animated release: Over the Hedge. That film featured an all-animal cast but it allowed the characters to take full advantage of the conventions of the medium. The animals were allowed to be both characters and caricatures. In Happy Feet we have real-life storylines, realistic-looking characters and completely fictional actions and dialogue. It's like three separate teams were all working and then met at the end to smash their pieces together. In an animated film, it's not enough just to animate a character, you have to make them animated too; otherwise you've no reason to use the medium.
Searching for a bright spot, the film does raise some issues of environmentalism and man's relationship with nature. Because of the pseudo-realistic style of the film, though, these scenes play out starkly and can bring about mild anxiety in smaller children. The movie also deals with acceptance, an importance issue that many felt misplaced in the film but which I just found as a dull story element.
Happy Feet is a disappointment. It's unfunny, unimaginative and unmemorable. It feels more like a marketing move ("People love penguins—they loved marching penguins so why not dancing penguins? And people love animation.") than a storytelling vehicle. There will be a big push for the DVD release, but don't make the same mistake I did. Trust your instincts.
DVD Features: 2:40:1 aspect ratio; English audio track; English, Spanish and French audio tracks and subtitles, Region 1.
DVD Extras: Two new animated sequences: "Mumble Meets a Blue Whale" and "A Happy Feet Moment"; private dance lesson with Savion Glover; music videos; I Love to Singa cartoon short.