Happy Feet (2006)

(In theaters, December 2006) This film may be many things, but it’s certainly not what you’re expecting. Those who go in expecting another one of the many, many CGI-animal-comedy films released this year will be surprised by the action scenes, the explicit environmentalism, the romantic drama, the religious satire, the ethnic references, the soul/rap soundtrack and the often unusual turns of the plot. Technically, it’s a stunning piece of work: The Antarctic landscape is fabulously well-rendered, and the animators work miracles with the relatively limited constraints of penguin anatomy. The direction, by Mad Max alumni George Miller (who’s no stranger to off-beat family films such as Babe 2: Pig In The City), is slick and never hesitates to use the possibilities of CGI to its fullest extent. The action scenes alone are surprisingly enjoyable. But it’s on a story level that Happy Feet is most audacious: The film meanders here and there on the emotional map, opting for segments that range from amusing to nightmarish: The density and variety of the story makes the film feel considerably longer than its 108 minutes. Unfortunately, it also gives it a disconnected, almost incoherent feel: by the time it pulls itself together for a toe-tapping finale, it feels as if the film pulls itself out of a corner by jumping out the side window. Perplexing, but still more interesting than most CGI film released this year. The music alone makes it all worthwhile: Beyond the Moulin Rouge!-esque musical sampling of the first few minutes, the latter segments all lift the film well above its usual level and are guaranteed to make you smile… and tap.

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