The other night we were looking for a good documentary to watch on Netflix and wanted something that wasn't too heavy. We looked through the animal docs and stopped on one that counted down the cutest animals on earth. Well, it didn't count them down, it kind of ordered them as they went. It didn't seem like the best format for showing clips of fuzzy animals, many with big eyes or act just like people. One of the show's selections was the emperor penguin which led to a conversation where I admitted I had never seen Happy Feet (2008).
I had been as confused as anyone when Fury Road came out and I looked up the directing credits of George Miller. There was a lot of hype that the original Mad Max director was back for another installment but it was curious what he had directed between distopian wasteland films. It turns out he directed the Babe talking pig movie and the Happy Feet movies, in bright contrast to his previously stark films.
My impression when Happy Feet came out was that it was a vehicle to have a string of popular songs that penguins dance to and act fuzzy. That kind of is what the first bit of the movie is, except eight years after it originally came out there is a little watching to see if the quality of animation held up. I really didn't know anything about the plot of this movie going into seeing it, and it definitely had much more of a plot than I expected. In the early part of the movie I was fooled by the trailers and what seemed to be the plot of the movie. I thought it would play out as the odd baby penguin that can't sing will find acceptance by either finding a way to sing a Guns and Roses song or Gloria, or will dance his way into the hearts of the other penguins who will finally accept him.
I was tricked. There was much more to the movie than an ugly duckling story and there was more to the animation than just the animation of penguins on snow. It was nice that there was a broader conservation message that allowed for a pretty impressive mixture of animation and maybe live action when humans are on the screen. It also makes statements about parenting, mental health and incarceration.
It's hard to tell if the end of the movie really happens. When the penguins at the zoo talk the people only see squawking. Perhaps when the see him dance they only see waddling. He thinks he is getting greater attention from the people than what is really happening and he slips deeper into the madness that made him think he saw his friends and family and the expanse of the ice in the enclosure.
I like that the real message of the movie is that conservationist efforts can be reached and that there is beauty in animals even in forgotten places on earth, but it also reinforces the unease I feel when I see animals in enclosures at zoos who cannot be content with their shrunken world. Shit, that's a downer. Where's that cute animal list show, again?