HAPPY FEET - Blu-ray review

I'll always feel that Happy Feet could have been so much more, but it is definitely entertaining.


"Looking back on when I
Was a little nappy headed boy.
Trying your best to bring the
Water to your eyes.
Thinking it might stop her
From whoopin your behind.

I wish those days could
Come back once more.
Why did those days
Ever have to go.
Cause I loved them so."

When the teaser trailer debuted for "Happy Feet" with the heavily edited version of Stevie Wonder's awesome song "I Wish" and featuring baby Mumbles tap dancing was enough to put "Happy Feet" near the top of my list of films to see. I fell in love with that little minute and a half clip of the tap dancing penguin and embedded the video on my blog and spread the word that everybody had to check it out. Some people thought it was the cutest thing they had ever seen. Others agreed it looked interesting. Others were simply amazed I was familiar with the classic Stevie Wonder tune. Regardless, I marked the day on my calendar for "Happy Feet's" release and eagerly awaited the movie that featured the little tap dancing penguin.

Then came the other trailers.

Robin Williams. Elijah Wood. Brittany Murphy. Hugh Jackman. Nicole Kidman. Hugo Weaving. Robin Williams in another role. The second, third and fourth for trailers drowned my enthusiasm for the picture. Once I learned that little Mumbles spent much of his time as a gawky teenage penguin, "Happy Feet" was no longer a film I was overly eager to see. As far as I was concerned, the film was going to be another star-studded computer animated film that was besieged with pop-culture references and a shoddy story. I started to reject my beloved teaser trailer as a computer generated advertisement and figured the footage of baby Mumbles getting funky to Stevie Wonder would not exist in the final film. Months before "Happy Feet" hit theaters, I was already crushed by the film.

My ten year old nephew talked my seventy three year old mother into going to the movie theaters for the first time since she saw "Midnight Cowboy" in Germany in 1969. They loved the film and thought it was amazing. I had already seen the pop songs sung by the penguins and knew that Robin Williams would do a Salsa version of Frank Sinatra's "My Way." I wanted nothing to do with the movie that didn't include much baby Mumbles and featured Spanish penguins. The film looked amazing in the trailers from a technological standpoint, but I had already judged the George Miller film without seeing anything more than the onslaught of trailers and had wished the director had stuck with his "Mad Max" series. Why did they have to taunt me with the Stevie Wonder trailer?

Then came the Blu-ray screener.

The screener arrived from Warner Bros. and I knew that I would now have to watch "Happy Feet." Of course, the very first thing I did was pop the disc in and go to the special features and look for my teaser. It wasn't there. "Happy Feet" was just becoming a worsening deal. I had planned on watching the film over the weekend and getting my review posted over the weekend. However, no amount of effort could be made to watch the film on my days off. It wasn't going to be a ninety minute picture about a cute and lovable baby Emperor penguin that would tap dance to classic music. It was going to feature Mexican speaking Penguins that pronounced ‘man' with a ‘g' tacked onto the end of the word and ‘you' is pronounced ‘joo.'

Sunday night, I finally sat down and watched "Happy Feet" with my nephew. He loved the film and was eager to see it in high definition on my home theater rig. Baby Mumbles occupies only ten minutes of screen time. He is then replaced by a tall, molt-deficient adolescent penguin voiced by Elijah Wood. The film is not the film had eagerly anticipated and I will always look to "Happy Feet" at having an incredibly well done teaser and then poor trailers, because in the end, I give the film a passing great. It is actually entertaining and it certainly helps to watch the film with an eleven year old (he has had a birthday since seeing it theatrically). There is at least a watchful angel working for Warner Bros. The "I Wish" tap dancing scene is indeed included in the film. It isn't exactly as appears on the teaser trailer, but it is close enough!

"Happy Feet" is the story of a young penguin born to overly talented singing penguins Memphis (Nicole Kidman) and Norma Jean (Nicole Kidman). While Norma Jean is off fishing, Memphis accidentally drops the egg and when it comes time for the young penguins to hatch, Mumbles arrives late and has a weird twitch with his feet that is very much unpenguinlike. As he matures, it is discovered that Mumbles has no singing voice and when he does try to sing, the experience is painful to all that surround him. He falls in love with Gloria (Brittany Murphy), who is just as talented as Memphis and Norma Jean. However, he is ostracized from his flock and leaves. After being chased by a seal in a beautiful CGI scene, he discovers smaller penguins of possible Hispanic origin and led by Ramon (Robin Williams). These penguins do not sing. They dance. And Mumbles is quickly respected for his happy feet by the penguins. Mumbles decides to set out and find what is killing the food supply of fish and asks the short penguin's oracle, Lovelace (Robin Williams) what he knows about the aliens. They set off on an adventure to find the aliens who have killed off the fish supply.

The Hispanic penguins are grating. They really could have done without making them so Mexican. I'm not sure an animated penguin should use words like "Amigo" and I wonder how Mexican's view the stereotypical language used by the little penguins who must live in the Southern part of Antarctica. Fortunately, they are funny enough to almost make up for the Spanish twang to their speech. Ultimately, when Mumbles does stumble across man, he is captured and placed in a zoo. There, man discovers his tapdancing and he is sent back to Antarctica to his people and wins the affections of Gloria and shows that his happy feet are just as wonderful as the others' singing voices. This inclusion of environmental topics feels very forced and "Happy Feet" moves too far into the territory of being a social statement than a children's animated film. Of course, I just wanted a long movie about baby Mumbles.

The film is certainly fun and although adolescent Mumbles is not cute and can't hold a candle to the draw power of baby Mumbles, this is a big adventure for baby penguins. The real strength is the CGI of this film. Antarctica looks stunning. The waves upon waves of penguins are amazing and rivals the huge battles in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. The killer whales and the seal are some of the best CGI imagery I have yet to see and the CGI humans during the film's pivotal environmental message are so realistic, they are creepy. The voice actors do their parts well enough, though two Salsa incarnations of Robin Williams was a bit much. The singing by the actors was easy enough to stomach, but I'm not sure I'll ever accept either Nicole Kidman or Hugh Jackman singing Prince's "Kiss" as being valid entertainment. The only true pop culture moment (aside from the music) was probably missed by most audience members. There is a definite reference to "2001: A Space Odyssey" in the penguin exhibit. I will always feel that a film centered around a baby Mumbles would have been far superior and that the little Penguins would have been better served not being tied to a racial stereotype. "Happy Feet" was not the disaster I had expected and it had its redeeming moments. For one amazing minute and a half period, the film is what I had wanted it to be and I thank the filmmakers for putting the Stevie Wonder clip in the film.

This is the absolute most impressive looking film I have yet to see on any high definition format; whether it be HD-DVD or Blu-ray. Computer generated animation has an advantage over filmed feature-length productions when it comes to being translated to high definition and "Happy Feet" fully capitalizes on its digital underpinnings. The 2.4:1 widescreen transfer is jaw-droppingly good and the VC-1 mastered compression routinely breaks the 20 MBPS mark. The scene where a seal pursues Mumbles is so far above anything else I've seen in detail level, that "Happy Feet" raises the bar for high definition. "Happy Feet" doesn't exactly have a lot of variety of hues in its palette. The penguins are black and white with yellow breast and neck feathers and red feet and mouths. The sky and snow cover the full range of blues. Regardless of the limited palette, the colors too are amazing. The sky is a wondrously deep blue. With the incredible amount of detail and wide use of blue gradients; what may be most impressive with the digital transfer of "Happy Feet" is that there are absolutely no visual or technical faults with the transfer. My colleague John J. Puccio described this film as being ‘perfect' in its visuals. I can't say it any better and I couldn't agree more.

Unlike John J. Puccio's review, I was unable to enjoy the Dolby TrueHD soundtrack, as the Blu-ray release features only a Dolby Digital 5.1 EX mix in English, French and Spanish. The 5.1 EX mix is mastered in 48 kHz and with a 640 kbps rate of transfer. This is nowhere near the throughput of the TrueHD soundtrack and I will one day have to sit down and compare the two formats. Though the soundtrack on the Blu-ray disc is technically inferior to the HD-DVD release, it is still a rather good soundtrack. The two chase sequences (seal and killer whales) are aggressive and feature great ambient sounds in all six channels. The .1 LFE channel hits hard during these moments, but also backs up the film's licensed songs very nicely. John Powell's music score is kept to the background, but is very warm and natural sounding. A few other sequences aside from the two dynamic moments feature solid sound effects and although I didn't particularly enjoy the penguins singing modern hits (Where did the Original Soundtrack go? Somebody find Elton John or Phil Collins), every song sounds technically great. English, French and Spanish soundtracks are included.

A nice little list of special features are included, although I am still a bit miffed the teaser was not included. The most notable supplements are the Two New Fully Animated Additional Sequences. "Mumbles Meets a Blue Whale" (3:31) features an additional scene with Steve Irwin. Irwin had portrayed an elephant seal in the finished film, but the filmmakers finished this blue whale scene in tribute to the late great Steve Irwin, who is an albatross in the scene. Steve is missed and I thank the filmmakers for taking the time to finish this incredible scene. The second scene, "A Happy Feet Moment" (:31) is much shorter, but it is baby Mumbles and is shown in wondrous high definition video. The film needed more baby Mumbles. I Love to Singa (8:13) is an animated short from 1936 and I fondly remember this short from growing up with Saturday morning cartoons. Dance Like a Penguin: Stomp to the Beat (5:21) looks at the process of making the penguins tap dance. This was a nice segment. Two music videos, "Gia's Hit Me Up and Prince's The Song of the Heart" are included. Finally, the frightening Theatrical Trailer featuring Robin Williams butchering "My Way" is included.

Closing Comments:
From being a must-see to a must-avoid film, "Happy Feet" never quite lived up to the expectations I had created for the film after seeing the incredible teaser trailer featuring a baby Mumbles tap dancing to Stevie Wonder's classic song "I Wish." I never did see the film in protest to what I had seen in the following trailers. There was just something about pop-song singing penguins and Mexican penguins that was a huge turn-off. After the Blu-ray arrived at my doorstep, I finally sat down and watched the film. It certainly isn't the film I was hoping for and its pop songs and Salsa penguins are disappointing. I'll always feel that "Happy Feet" could have been so much more, but it is definitely entertaining. The Blu-ray is a visual tour de force and I have yet to see anything that can hold up to this title in visuals. The soundtrack is good, but not nearly as overpowering as the visuals and the Blu-ray release doesn't have the technical pop of the HD-DVD release. The supplements are nice, but relatively short. The biggest reason to own this title truly is the visuals. The film is good enough to sit through, but you'll be showing off numerous moments in the film to douse any naysayer of high definition with truth.


Film Value