Commentary 28 Dec 2006 09:02 am

Happy Feet

- Last night, I watched the Academy screener of Happy Feet. I’m sorry I hadn’t seen it initially in a theater, and I know I’ll go back to see it on a big screen soon.

There’s no doubt this is the best of the films on the short list in the animated feature category. I’ve made myself obvious about my dislike of MoCap, but this is a good film. Regardless of whether it was done 2D, keyframe, live action or MoCap, it’s a well made film. It is a musical in the truest sense of the word; it thrives on the music.

I believe animation should be tied tightly to music (even the absence of music in animation is a critical choice that has sometimes worked.) This film is dependent on and in love with the music constantly remixing on its soundtrack; there is no possibility of separating the action, camera moves or story from the music.

They use a lot of songs from the 70′s-90′s to accent a tempo, but the score by John Powell is one of the best film scores of the year. Listen to the underscoring of a couple of the opening numbers; it’s amazing. Powell scored my short for HBO, Goodnight Moon, back in 1999. He was just starting back then, but he came fully developed. He went on to Disney where he scored The Emperor’s New Groove; then to Robots and Ice Age II. He’s written many other excellent film scores. Here, in Happy Feet, he is at the top of his game.

I think of MoCap as more a form of digital puppetry than animation, and the movement in this film is fine. Savion Glover can be seen in all the dancing, but the acting is expressive – especially given the lack of expression on a penguin’s face. I thought there were some scenes with the father character (voiced by Hugh Jackman) that were just excellent. Equally interesting is Nicole Kidman, though her character has no stand-out action.
The same is true for Brittany Murphy; she’s extraordinary, though her part doesn’t require enormous depth. She also does most of her own singing, and she does it well. After all those years at King of the Hill, she certainly has proven herself, and displays her talent well in this film.

Actually, all of the voice work is good – though I sometimes had trouble telling some of the males apart. None of the voices are star turns that dominate the film. They all sound appropriate for the roles.

I liked the use of live action in the end, and thought it would have been the only real way to get their point across. It, like everything else in this film, was done well. A delicate mix of live action embedded into the MoCap drawn world. It was just good ol’ plain, film making know how. George Miller is a director who knows how.


Today’s NYTimes features an article on Savion Glover‘s dancing for this film.

I also suggest you read Mark Mayerson‘s comment today about this and other articles. Mark has some excellent thoughts worth digesting.


To see artwork from another animal film, the ASIFA Hollywood Animation Blog has posted some beautiful pieces from Mark Kirkland‘s collection of artwork from Bambi.
(Click any image to enlarge.)

8 Responses to “Happy Feet”

  1. on 28 Dec 2006 at 5:34 pm 1.Hans Perk said …

    I’m surprised that you liked Happy Feet that much. Suffice to say I saw it in IMAX, and it sounds like it’s a lot better on tv…

  2. on 28 Dec 2006 at 4:47 pm 2.Michael said …

    Yes, I thought Happy Feet was a good film. Not in my Best of the Year, but certainly of the animated films it was.

    Without backing off, I have to point out that I said I liked it better than any of the other animated features I’d seen – with the exception of A Scanner Darkly, which has no chance of a nomination. (Animators seem to hate rotoscope but not MoCap.)

    Cars was the only other contender – of those I saw, and that was just too loud and long for me to have been interested especially with the cliched story.

    The creative design, the excellent dance, and the fine voice work (though admittedly a number of the voices sounded alike.) However, it was the music in Happy Feet that put me over the top.

  3. on 28 Dec 2006 at 6:13 pm 3.Hans Perk said …

    Everyone is, of course, entitled to their opinion. That said, I must refrain from stating my opinion on Happy Feet (it would not be politically correct) – but I can see your point with regards to the nominees. I didn’t think Cars was bad – though I’m not a Nascar type of guy – I could get into it, but it took much longer than the previous Pixar films.

    And yes, I hate MoCap if it is used as roto was. I have never been as annoyed about this as during a screening of Renaissance, a film that should never have been included in any animation category, seeing they were so proud that they even MoCapped pupil movements. It’s a live-action technique, in my book. A film is a film, of course, but I like mine with honest warmth, charm and humor – like the trailer of Happy Feet promised. I was sadly disappointed.

  4. on 02 Jan 2007 at 3:14 pm 4.Daniel Thomas MacInnes said …

    I fear that I’ve become so jaded towards animated features in 2006 that I was perfectly willing to walk away from Happy Feet without so much as a passing glance. I’ve assumed that it was just the latest bad Hollywood cartoon. Thank goodness for your insightful praises of the movie. For a movie like this, I’ll trust the advice of animators and filmmakers more than anyone. I’ll be sure to watch Happy Feet now, and hope for the best.

    Happy holidays and happy new year! Best wishes for the new year!

  5. on 02 Jan 2007 at 3:51 pm 5.Michael said …

    Hi Daniel:
    Before you take my word for it, read Mike Barrier‘s very negative review or the above comments by Hans Perk. There’s a lot of negative reaction to this film in the industry among animators. I’m surprised that the horrendous Barnyard had more support. As I said, I was entertained.

    For me, the best animated film I’ve seen last year was A Scanner Darkly. It was adult, original and thoughtful, and the rotoscope technique was, I thought, part of the story.
    Best to trust your own thoughts.

  6. on 25 Oct 2007 at 2:13 pm 6.Shila.T said …

    I can not tell you how much i love this film.
    great work, great animation and absolute magnificent story.

    keep up the good work

  7. on 23 Jan 2008 at 6:27 am 7.tonia said …

    it’s the most amazing movie in the world. Mumble is very cute!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. on 14 Jun 2008 at 7:37 am 8.Patricia said …

    Happy Feet was the most amazing animation I’ve ever seen. The characters were all brilliant. The storyline was easy to follow for kids and adults. I love the message about learning to sing your heart song and finding those who will sing it with you – in harmony. I believe I will find my perfect man that way. Hey, call me a dreamer…but call me in a song and I’ll respond sooner. ;-) The song and dance ARE the movie. More than anything I loved the way this movie helped to raise our awareness of how one thing affects another. Everything is everything. We are not separate entities, we are united…and the sooner we begin behaving as such the better. This one is a keeper. I wouldn’t change a thing. MAMBO!!!

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