Heroes of the Zeroes: Happy Feet
Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.
Dejected and downhearted, Mumble the dancing penguin stays awake all night on a tiny ice floe, separated from his boisterous brethren who possess perfect pitch for “heart songs” to find mates. Mumble emits only shrills squawks and is shunned for his preference to tap-dance at parties.
But why is he the outcast? What dictates “regular” behavior? Mumble’s existential quest propelled 2006’s “Happy Feet” — the only animated kids’ film Werner Herzog could ever love. (Call Mumble a cuter cousin to the penguin running toward certain doom in Herzog’s “Encounters at the End of the World.”)
Director George Miller certainly played his parable about xenophobia, tolerance, religion and ecological responsibility to a cuddly conclusion. Balletic underwater sequences and a kooky jukebox-musical soundtrack spanning Chicago to Grandmaster Flash were spoonfuls of sugar to make medicine go down.
Still, “Happy Feet” shares sadness, satire and tough animal-kingdom truths with the “Babe” franchise that Miller shepherded in the 1990s. How else to explain a lothario penguin lauded for “visions” brought on by a plastic ring cutting off his oxygen or an occasionally eerie third act that teeters into “Twilight Zone” territory?
“Feet’s” much-attacked environmental ideas were really just practical reminders: Be aware of the effects of mankind’s choices, as ecosystem intrusions have consequences and resources don’t magically replenish.
Amid that uncertainty, survival is a delicate balance of adaptation and cooperation. When Mumble plummeted over the edge of the world he knew — one that roundly rejected him — solely to save it, this flightless bird’s tale soared.