Happy Feet

I wish I could just say six words – there’s a new George Miller movie – and you would grab your coat, jump in the car, and run every red light between you and the theater. In the interest of public safety, instead I offer this movie review.

Because they are expensive, and because they are so dependent on technology, the tools of computer graphics animation almost always end up in the hands of marketers and techies. Even including the occasional bright spots, isn’t it amazing that, in the eleven years since Toy Story , no one has thought to use CG to capture the beauty of the natural world?

Happy Feet begins in the stars, enraptured by the Horsehead Nebula, adrift in an ethereal rendition of the Beatles song "Golden Slumbers". The film’s title emerges from the sun, the prime source of life on earth, and perhaps a deeper metaphor. And as we drop towards the tiny marble of Earth, and skim across the Antarctic ice, the melody merges into an R&B medley of staggering imagination and complexity.

The emperor penguins are singing. Each has a single tune that best expresses who he is inside. We follow a female as she searches for a mate. She will fall in love with the penguin whose song meshes with her own. Here, one offers ’70s Stevie Wonder, here The Beach Boys; there Prince and Pink. Again and again she turns away. I won’t give you the name of the song that wins her heart.

These opening minutes are more beautiful than anything we’ve ever seen in computer animation. And there’s more: great craggy slices of azure ice shelf; a bone-stripping wind in the dark driving the penguins deeper into a huddled mass; an underwater ballet of rocketing penguins, trailing bubbles, like contrails behind the Blue Angels. I just can’t do it justice.

It must be said that Happy Feet is a compromised movie, with a treacly story about a young penguin finding himself, voiced by a cloying Elijah Wood. That’s not surprising, considering the commercial cold shoulder given to Miller’s magical Babe: Pig in the City eight years ago. Parents thought the movie’s darkness was doing something bad to their kids, when in fact it was treating them to the beauty they desire and deserve. It has taken Miller this long to get another movie made – or maybe to want to – and he knows enough, or is on a leash short enough, not to enrage those parents again and commit financial suicide.

But Miller’s passion is everywhere. His purpose — the film’s ecological theme — is to dramatize the violence done to the earth by sheer human destructiveness. When the little penguin finally confronts the evil doers, it recalls the moment Babe stared right into the eyes of a lethal pit bull, and through compassion tried to get through to him. This movie shares the same stout heart, and is trying just as desperately to communicate.

This and other theater, music, and movie reviews can be read, listened to, or podcast at wfiu.indiana.edu. Reviewing movies for WFIU, this is Peter Noble-Kuchera.

Peter Noble Kuchera

Originally from Columbus, Indiana, Peter moved to Bloomington in 1998. He completed four years of film study at the University of Minnesota and two years of film production in the Film Cities in St. Paul. He began reviewing movies for WFIU in 2003 and began producing on-air fundraising spots for WTIU in 2006. In 2008 he received a second place award for Best Radio Critic at the Los Angeles Press Club’s First Annual National Entertainment Journalism Awards in 2008. Peter passed away suddenly on June 8, 2009.

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