In 1930, legendary jazz bandleader Cab Calloway recorded a song called “Happy Feet” with his orchestra. Calloway sang of an uncontrollable urge that came over his ten tapping toes to dance when he heard a low-down beat. Before his death twelve years ago, do you think that in his wildest dreams he’d believe his song would be the premise for a film featuring computer-animated penguins that sing and dance in Antarctica?
In “Happy Feet,” the latest CGI spectacle to hit screens, the penguins attract their mates with a song from their heart. Because father Memphis (Hugh Jackman) dropped his egg during the incubation period, poor Mumble (Elijah Wood, with an adorable bowtie-like birthmark on his neck) is rendered tone-deaf but has the ability to tap dance, which embarrasses his friends and father. Mother Norma Jean (Nicole Kidman) is more than supportive, but Mumble is not accepted among the penguins. The elders blame the lack of fish to Mumble’s bucking of tradition and exile him. He later finds himself on the turf of a different species of penguin and quickly befriends Ramon (Robin Williams) and his amigos. Together they seek the “aliens with no feathers” in the large boats with nets to loosen the “tribal talisman” (which resembles a plastic 6-pack holder) from the neck of one of the penguins and to politely ask them to stop taking all of their fish.
Though production on Happy Feet took four years, director George Miller has greatly overstepped his last film (1998’s Babe: Pig in the City) with the help of Tony Award-winning tap dancer Savion Glover, who provided the motion capture dancing for the film.
Let’s face it: children’s movies are made as much for adults as they are for the children-I’ll admit, I saw “Madagascar” sans child.)From the music montages (featuring songs by Prince, the Beach Boys, Boyz II Men, Stevie Wonder, and Queen) to Jackman and Kidman’s unabashed tributes to Elvis and Marilyn to the snarky dialogue when Mumble fights with his would-be girlfriend Gloria (Brittany Murphy), this movie is as much ours as it belongs to the kiddies.
Williams is true-to-form as the over-the-top leader of the pack, and I’ll admit, I giggled more than once. I was mildly disappointed that there was no reference to Fred Astaire (tap dancing upside-down on an iceberg would have been a nice touch, nay?). Still, at the end of the day, one must accept the reality that tap dancing penguins are freaking adorable, and they make Happy Feet worth seeing.