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Volume 72, Issue 63, Thursdsay, November 16, 2006

Life & Arts

Penguins dance away from cliches

by CHRISTIAN OCHOA
The Daily Cougar

Happy Feet is an odd bird. At first glance, the film gave off a Dumbo-esque feel: a strong mother-son bond, an awkward child and wise-cracking birds who befriend the protagonist. It seems like an unoriginal plot, but when the baby emperor penguin begins to tap dance -- and boy can he dance -- the film takes a new spin on the animated films genre. 

Mumble (Elijah Wood) is a lively and sweet penguin child, despite being ostracized for his "handicap." His dad, Memphis (Hugh Jackman), worries about his son's strange behavior, unlike Mumble's mom (Nicole Kidman), who is delighted by her son's talents.

Doing fancy footwork might not seem like a crime against humanity, but dancing is not allowed in this feathery society. Everyone must perform a "heartsong" to impress his or her mate, and Mumble -- well, his "heartsong" sounds worse than the squawks of a certain Simpson sister. 

Despite failing in his singing ways, Mumble still attracts a mate, Gloria (Brittany Murphy), with his hippity-hoppity ways. A fish drought near the penguins' home, though, ruins it for Mumble. 

Noah (Hugo Weaving), an elder penguin who prefers the status quo, blames the drought on Mumble and his un-penguin ways. When Mumble refuses to repent and abandon said ways, he is forced to leave his home and goes on a pilgrimage to find the true culprit behind the drought. 

The film doesn't stop there with the allusions to a biblical epic. Besides the plague being brought upon a people and one prophet going on a journey to find salvation, the oligarchy of penguins constantly seeks out the great penguin in the sky and chastises anyone who seems to stray from the status quo. The spiritual themes are so subtle in the film that no child, and possibly few adults, would notice unless they thought about it -- at least it's subtler than The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. 

There are enough action sequences to entertain the kiddies: the prey-predator chases, tumbling through the ice to escape avalanches and Mumble's journey to find the drought's culprit. The tongue-in-cheek humor and the various dialects, which include Robin Williams' rendition of a Hispanic from the barrio, will keep the older audiences chuckling. The myriad dance numbers (hey, the protagonist is a dancer) are well-choreographed and orchestrated perfectly. 

Besides, dancing penguins are cute.

Happy Feet might seem like a childish movie, but the painstaking dedication is seen when the different groups of penguins each have their own dance style. Dedication like that is hard to come by with human actors. 

Happy Feet has its moments of seriousness, dark tones and commentary on humanity, but the film doesn't forget that it's about dancing penguins. 

Send comments to dcshobiz@mail.uh.edu

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