If “Happy Feet” was simply an animated short like the ones that precede Pixar features, it might have been a masterpiece. There are dozens of charming moments, but the story is simply too thin to carry the movie’s 87-minute running time.The animation is breathtaking, with computer generated baby penguins that have startlingly realistically fluffy plumage. The soundtrack is loaded with pop songs that are creatively rearranged and combined in surprisingly pleasing ways.
Nonetheless, “Happy Feet” feels weirdly hollow, even for a movie aimed at tots. The tale concerns a young penguin named Mumble Happy Feet (voiced by Elijah Wood), who has a potentially fatal problem for an Antarctic bird: He can’t sing.
In this film, the only way a penguin can find a suitable mate is to be able to carry a tune that meshes with the one the other is singing. Mumble's problem is especially embarrassing for his parents Memphis and Norma Jean (Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman) because both of them warble beautifully.
It seems that Mumble's gift is not in his throat but in his feet. The weird convulsions in his legs are not a type of epilepsy (as the rest of the tribe believes) but tap dancing. Mumble can boogie in a way that would make Gregory Hines proud.
That’s about it in the story department. Along the way, Mumble encounters a friendly gang of smaller birds with Mexican accents, elephant seals and humans who are apparently live actors instead of computer generated.
All of his adventures are curiously anticlimactic because of the film’s obvious conclusion. It takes the other penguins an intolerably long time to figure out what the audience already knows.
Australian Director George Miller (who’s responsible for the Mad Max and Babe movies) teamed up with three other writers for this one, and yet the story feels as if it’s straining to reach feature length. Interesting, the penguins’ life cycle in the movie is actually scientifically correct (Miller was once a doctor).
The diversions in “Happy Feet” are often more engaging than the main plot line. There’s something undeniably endearing about watching Mumble tearing through the snow on Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish” or hearing a choir of penguin chicks harmonizing to “In My Room” by the Beach Boys.
The mostly Australian vocal cast seems to be having fun. Jackman gleefully apes Elvis Presley, and Hugo Weaving gets to practice his Scottish brogue as the tribal leader of the birds. Robin Williams gets to play three different characters here, and he’s funnier than he’s been in his recent live action roles.While the visuals on this film beg for the big screen, “Happy Feet” is weirdly better suited for a distracted viewing at home. You can take a break during or fast forward through any of the sequences where the plot gets in the way of the fun.