**WARNING: This post contains mild spoilers**
I started writing this a couple of weeks ago but quickly became overwhelmed by just how much I had to say on the topic. Is it wrong that I have little to say on many serious topics but I could ramble for hours about a family film? Anyway, I’ve exercised some self control (maybe the off-cuts will appear in my upcoming novel, Happy Feet: Why It Is Awesome And If You Don’t Think So You Suck) but I still had to split this up into two parts …
In 2006 I heard that a film about dancing penguins was on its way to our cinemas. I was excited. I thought, “What more could you want? It’s about penguins! Penguins that dance!” Clearly it would be one of the greatest movies in history.
I was setting myself up for bitter disappointment, but against all odds I wasn’t disappointed at all. In fact, the movie delivered everything I expected and more. I walked out of the theatre feeling elated and I immediately messaged a bunch of my friends, saying “Happy Feet is amazing!”
The sad part of the tale is, in the five years since, I’ve had to slowly come to terms with the apparent fact that no one loves the movie as much as I do (except perhaps David Stratton and the guy with the job of rigging the Oscars). It holds quite a low rating on IMDB and most of my peers rate it somewhere between “pfft” and “meh”.
The three big questions in my life have become:
- What is the meaning of life?
- Is there a God?
- Why on Earth doesn’t anyone realise how awesome Happy Feet is?
So, with the release date of the sequel fast approaching, hopefully I can finally find some answers to that last question. Also, if I say a few words in the film’s defence, maybe I can convert a few of you non-believers in the process!
Regarding why I like the movie so much, one of the most convincing arguments I heard was “I was overseas when it was released”. You see, being an Australian film (of sorts) the hype and promotion in the country was apparently relentless. So everyone was sick of dancing penguins well before they’d even given the movie a chance. But being occupied with a trip around Europe at the time, I avoided all that, and I was in a prime state to be surprised and charmed.
It’s a valid point but there’s more to it than that. I’d taken off for Europe just after I’d lost my first proper job and not long after I’d broken up with my first girlfriend. So I was in a more emotionally fragile state of mind than usual, and more than ready to be cheered up by a feel-good film about fluffy animals.
But we can dig deeper again. You see, despite the fact that my ex and I were a pretty poor match for each other, I had a few fond memories and one of those involved us looking up Happy Feet trailers on Youtube (then talking about how it was going to be the best movie ever). Also, just before leaving on my trip, a fledgling romance had blossomed between myself and an amazing girl (who would later become my amazing wife). So not only was I missing her – I was also full of all the melodramatic hopes and doubts and fears that are part and parcel of a new relationship.
So, as soon as the film opened with the dialogue “But how can you know for sure? Is there really just one?” amidst a sea of penguins singing over each other, all trying to woo a mate – it had me hook, line and sinker. In my mind it was already more than a kid’s movie about cute penguins. It was about the confusion and desperation of the dating world – something that I could definitely relate to.
After that, the most obvious thing that quickly captured my heart was the gosh-dang cuteness of it all. A few people have said they didn’t find it cute because the animation style used made the penguins look kind of ugly. But I have to ask, did those people actually see the part where Mumble hatches from an egg and immediately starts tap-dancing? The scene also includes this exchange between Mumble and his father …
MEMPHIS: You okay?
BABY MUMBLE: [tap dancing] F-F-Fweezing. F-Fweezing.
MEMPHIS: Oh, you’ll get used to it … Whatcha doin’ there, boy?
BABY MUMBLE: [tap dancing] I’m happy, Pa!
MEMPHIS: Whatcha doin’ with your feet?
BABY MUMBLE: [looks down] They’re happy, too!
Now, how is that not adorable!
Of course, cuteness is objective (Correction: it’s subjective, you idiot. – Signed, me from the future). Perhaps people like their animals a little more cartoonish, or they find it more endearing when the animals show further human traits and use human tools (“Aww, he thinks he’s people”). If you look at a movie like Surf’s Up (which, for the record, I don’t hate but it’s an easy target seeing as it was also about penguins and released around the same time), it feels like a human story where the people have been interchanged with animated penguins at the last minute to give the film wider appeal. That’s fine, but Happy Feet, feels like a movie about penguins (though admittedly it purposely draws parallels to the human world). It’s simply about their plight to find a mate, get through a tough winter, raise chicks and find food. Sure, the penguins could have been given guitars to play or little cars to drive around for comedic effect, but that kind of thing has been done before. I find something admirable and perhaps a little unique about not resorting to such tricks in the quest for adorability. Because in the end it would be unnecessary. Baby penguins are plenty lovable enough.
Then again, it’s more likely that people think cute is fine – it just isn’t enough to make it a great movie. To those people I’d say that there’s a lot more to the film, but that will have to wait till next week, where I’ll look deeper at the messages in the film and the surprising controversy that it caused. So if my argument of “C’mon! It’s dancing penguins! C’mon!” hasn’t convinced you, perhaps a look at the film’s slightly darker side will do the trick.
Also, on a separate note, I hope you all have a safe and super-fun Christmas!