"I Just Wanted A Movie About Tap-dancing Penguins!!!"
Happy Feet is a CGI film from 2006 directed by George Miller. Winner of the Best Animated Feature Oscar in 2007.A male emperor penguin named Mumble cannot sing like all others of his colony, but he can tap dance. (Because his father Memphis dropped him as an egg, as he admits in an anguished public confession.) Separated from his colony, Mumble meets the Adelie Amigos, who later help him on a quest to get the fish back from "aliens" after he was thrown out of the Emperor Penguin colony by the elders.Happy Feet subverts several of the tropes common to the genre (like Robin Williams). Some fans find it to be in the same fashion as Watership Down, as it tells its story entirely from the animals' point of view among other things.On the other hand, some viewers have criticized the film's use of motion-capture, particularly during the dance sequences. Others have expressed dismay at the film's perceived Family Unfriendly Aesops.A sequel was released on November 18th, 2011 (it currently does not have its own article). It centers on Mumble's son Erik, who is going through an identity crisis similar to the one his father had, and their attempt to save the colony from a giant iceberg that has blocked their way to the ocean. A subplot follows the adventures of two krill, Will and Bill, who stray from their swarm and head off to find their destiny. An official trailer (showcasing the same type of Parental Bonus songs as its predecessor) can be seen here.
Played straight with the second film, most likely due to the revive of the format.
Action Girl: Boadicea, Ms. Viola's daughter. She's a cute, little Emperor Penguin chick... who can pull off Le Parkour.
Adaptational Wimp/Adults Are Useless: Averted with Mumble in the sequel, who continues to be the bold, intuitive, and caring penguin he was in the first movie; the few times he loses his cool, it's justified by exhaustion, hunger, and stress from having nearly lost his sonwhile his mate is trapped and dying. He solves most of the movie's problems by himself with his signature innovative determination, and only nearly fails with the elephant seals because he simply has no more energy. While they're trapped for most of the movie, Gloria still continues to play a large role as a community leader and inspirational "speaker" alongside Miss Viola and Seymour.
Adult Fear: For a horrible minute in the sequel, it looks like two adorable seal pups are going to lose their father when he falls into the crevice and all they can do is hear their father tell that he is going to die. Fortunately, Mumble manages to rescue him.
Mumble's father's worries are genuine that he was responsible for Mumble's inability to sing because he allowed the egg to freeze a little, causing some sort of brain damage or autism. Even worse, Mumble's egg was slightly late in hatching — there's a moment or two when Memphis is clearly thinking he's responsible for the death of his and Norma Jean's child.
Agent Mulder: Subverted. Mumble only believes in aliens (humans) outside the ice, nobody believes him until he gets proof (even then, some still don't believe him), and he's right. Played somewhat straighter with the Boss Skua.
Lovelace pretends to disbelieve him, but he also knows they exist.
Pleasantly averted in the sequel; while Erik clearly has crippling social anxiety that prevents him from relaxing enough to discover his heartsong, his relationship with his loving and supportive parents is healthy despite Mumble's difficulty with communicating. He also has close friends in the form of Atticus and Bodicca, who never leave his side and are always ready to distract, comfort, or defend him as necessary.
What's more, unlike Mumble, Erik doesn't seem to experience any societal backlash for his quiet ways; the other penguin chicks willingly part around him to let him stand quietly in the background and enjoy watching them perform, rather than thinking he's weird or broken.
Big Damn Heroes: Done several times in the sequel. Sven leads all the penguins who follow him to where the Emperor Penguins are trapped, spooking the skuas. Later, the "aliens" come to help build a path to help the penguins get out. And finally, Mumble and Eric manage to convince Bryan to bring the elephant seals over to the iceberg to break it down. All while singing "Under Pressure", by the way.
Brick Joke: Mrs. Astrakhan tells Mumble to be "spontan-you-us!" with a Russian accent. Every time he says it afterwards, he pronounces it the same way.
Broke Your Arm Punching Out Cthulhu: Taking on the "aliens" consuming all the fish is only going to end this way. When Mumble finds a factory ship, he swims out to confront the aliens and clings on the rising net, but is easily dislodged, and the ship leaves without acknowledging him. He swims on to find the source - the narrator says he swam beyond all hope of return and became a legend. Eventually, he washes up on a distant shore to be recovered and put in a zoo. Finally face to face with "the aliens", he tries to communicates and, of course, fails. "After three days, he lost his voice. After three months, they said he had lost his mind." Then things pick up again.
Carnivore Confusion: This is where things get uncomfortable and weird for some viewers. The penguins, skuas, and humans in the film all eat fish. It's okay for the penguins to do so, but the skuas are shown as thieving bullies, and the humans are explicitly told that they shouldn't overfish - the penguins' declining catch is a major plot point). The skuas also try to eat Mumbles as a chick, but he manages to reason with them (to a point). The whales are just big, cute, playful dolphins who try to eat the protagonists, the elephant seals are passed off as "vegetarians" (huh?), and the leopard seal is basically the Antarctic equivalent of an evil dragon — he even snorts "fire" (really steam and bubbles). All in all, a very mixed bag on the predator issue.
To add to the muddle, the sequel featured a krill who was tired of being eaten and wanted to turn the tables on the predators.
Mumbles escapes the skuas because he falls into a crevice where they can't reach, and the orcas are hardly treated as playful. All of the predators are portrayed as pretty terrifying from the penguins' perspective, and the animals in general treat humans as frightening and alien.
Childhood Brain Damage: Mumble's egg being dropped by his father is the main reason he's so odd among the other penguins.
Childhood Friend Romance: Mumble and Gloria are close from childhood; Gloria saw Mumble come out of his egg, and defended him when his classmates mocked his inability to sing. Eventually they become an item as adults.
Children Raise You: In the sequel, all of Bryan's most noble moments come at the prompting of his two adorable children.
Common Eye Colors: Mumble is the only one with blue eyes, besides the elders, who have blue, green, and hazel. The normal population has amber/brown.
Cartoony Eyes: Mumble's icy blue eyes is actually a reference to his voice actor, Elijah Wood. (But see Uncanny Valley.)
Continuity Nod: Mumble mentions in the sequel how he was an outcast and everyone though he was weird, which was a major point in the original.
Critical Research Failure: In-Universe example in which one of the Adélie penguins believes elephant seals are vegetarians. It isn't ever established that said belief was inaccurate, though, which could potentially give less informed viewers the wrong idea.
Demoted to Extra: All of the Amigos except Ramon in the sequel, as well as Mumble's parents. Noah's still there, making it improbable that they passed away. (They're actually the penguins that tell Noah that there is no way out from the Doomberg.)
Does This Remind You of Anything?: Just replace the word "penguin" with "normal" every time someone tells Mumble he's not being, or acting like one. The entire first film portrays him like a person with autism.
Ramón: (after hearing Mumble singing) Yeah, I heard an animal once do that, but then they rolled him over and he was dead.
Earn Your Happy Ending: YMMV depending on how you perceive said trope, Mumble goes through a lot before his story is done.
Easy Evangelism: Mumble is returned to the colony by biologists, who follow him with a tracking device. Their studies of the penguins dancing makes people care about them more; a frantic montage of political activity leads to international fishing fleets withdrawing from Antarctic waters.
Eskimos Aren't Real: In Happy Feet Two, Will the Krill believes black holes are myths to keep people in the swarm.
Foreshadowing: Notice how all the penguins hatch out of their eggs with their beaks first, except Mumble, who's first bodyparts we see are his feet. And dancing.
Freeze-Frame Bonus: In the sequel, after the Krill escape the whales attack, if you pause when the whales are attacking the rest of the Krill swarm (as seen by Bill and Will), the shape of the swarm with the holes caused by the whales is that of a skull or a ghost face, call it what you will.
Funny Background Event: The other skuas in the background start mimicking the Boss Skua perfectly while he tells Mumble his story.
Genius Bruiser: Bryan prefers to simply shove any obstacles out of his way, but he later protests Mumble's ice-breaking plan by talking of "The impact force of compact ice, under pressure..."
Green Aesop: A rare example of an environmental message being very prominent and yet nowhere near the major point of the film - the human-caused depletion of the Antarctic fish is mostly a device to drive the plot.
The sequel doesn't even mention global warming, but it's very obviously to blame for the big problem caused by the broken-off iceberg. There are a lot of dripping icicles and pools of water around, as well.
Hot for Teacher: Briefly, Seymour - although it's his last appearance, so just how brief is never mentioned. Later, it's revealed that they both have two separate chicks (Bo is Ms. Viola's and Attacus is Seymour's), so they did not have their songs become love.
Humans Are Cthulhu: The aliens are, of course, humanity. It's a very long time (at least three-quarters of the way through the movie) before any humans appear, and before that the penguins see only their strange artefacts (garbage) and huge structures (an abandoned Antarctic base, a factory fishing ship), which are, to them, as incomprehensible and unknowable as the Jupiter Monolith in Two Thousand One A Space Odyssey.
Ink-Suit Actor: Mumble has his actor's blue eyes, and Gloria looks as much like Brittany Murphy as it's possible for a penguin to.
Irony: Mumble's a dreadful singer, but a terrific dancer. In the sequel, dancing's become almost as normal as singing between the penguins', however Mumble's son Erik can't seem to get the hang of it. Towards the end he's then revealed to have a magnificent voice, or more spesifically, an opera voice.
Loud Gulp: Noah gulps when he sees a helicopter for the first time.
Mama Bear: Despite her calm, loving demeanor, Norma Jean showed flashes of this. She was the first and only emperor penguin, in their extremely conformist and conservative society, to try to oppose the Elders, verbally lashing out at them (which was shocking enough to the colony) when they forced her son Mumble into exile. She also expressed great disdain for them during the graduation ceremony, for Mumble had not been permitted to graduate.
Meaningful Name: Erik's talent turns out to be opera...just like another famous Erik. Also, Mumble's mother is named "Norma Jean," which was Marilyn Monroe's birth name.
Mistaken For Afterlife: An inversion of the trope's usual form - when Mumble wakes up in the zoo enclosure, the other penguins tell him he's now in heaven, but he doesn't agree. (It's a environment tailored to their comfort, safe from predators and with a guaranteed food supply - from their point of view, it couldn't be better.)
Mood Whiplash: Happy dancing, happy dancing, banishment! A hard journey across the ice to find Robin Williams, so wacky fun again. Then it gets serious again, and so on.
Never Trust a Trailer: Watch the trailers and there's no sign of the (often heavy-handed) environmental message in the film, just happy dancing. This was actually one of director George Miller's big points of content, after the film was released. He has a rant about it on the Scene/Unseen podcast, where he compares the studio advertising machines to ubiquitous soda bottling companies, always pushing everything down to the norm.
Oh My Gods!: The penguins' god is "the great Guin". In Happy Feet 2, Noah says "Mother of Guin".
Overprotective Dad: Mumble gets this in the sequel. Justified in that they are in Antarctica, baby penguins wouldn't be able to maintain their body heat for very long nor can they feed themselves (which is remarked upon with Ramon), and most of the predators Mumble faced in the original movie (the Leopard Seal and Killer Whales), he faced as an adult and could have easily gotten killed.
Perpetual Molt: Subverted. Mumble never finishes his molting. And he's never shown shedding feathers, even near the climax. The creator said Mumble was designed this way so you could tell him apart from all the other penguins.
Plucky Comic Relief: The Adelie penguins provide nearly all of the comic fodder in a movie about social exclusion and environmental aesops.
Reset Button: Refreshingly, this is averted in the sequel. The penguins have not inexplicably forgotten Mumble saving their entire species. He's clearly a respected member of the community, and there's a noticeable increase in the dance moves used throughout the tribe. While his singing hasn't gotten any better, it's obvious that the tribe is more affectionately exasperated by it now than anything else. What's more, Mumble's contributions appear to have changed how emperor penguins react to 'disabled' chicks; Erik hasn't found a heartsong at all, but is met for the most part with quiet (if sad) acceptance and left alone, rather than treated as a pariah.
Retcon: At the end of the first film, Mumble's feathers have almost completely developed, up to covering his chest and leaving only his head and part of his back still covered in down. In the sequel however, his down is back to covering half of his body.
Revised Ending: An early cut of the film involved a subplot regarding actual extraterrestrial aliens, whose presence was made gradually more and more known throughout. The aliens were planning to siphon off the planet's resources gradually, placing the humans in the same plight as the penguins. At the end, thanks to Mumbles, their hand is stayed, and instead first contact is made. This was chopped out during the last year of production, and has yet to see the light of day in a finished form. There is proof in the form of concept art, and this dropped plot helps explain the outer space motif that remains in the film. The film would've been somewhat longer, by extension.
This is further confirmed by the release of an early, undated draft of the screenplay, which includes the above mentioned ending, as well as an even darker tone - confirming that, among other things, the film was originally and unequivocally aimed at much narrower age-bracket, rather than the all-embracing tone of the finished film. The characters all curse like sailors, and the famine subplot is even further examined, along with the penguin society and religion, various character name changes and a much more eclectic soundtrack, featuring The Who, The Ramones, Iggy Pop and later-era Beatles, in place of what would become John Powell's orchestral soundtrack. You can find it here.
Shoutout Music: Tons of popular songs make short cameos throughout the film.
Shown Their Work: The film actually depicts several behaviors of Antarctic animals quite accurately, such as the way male Emperor penguins spend the winter huddling together for warmth while incubating their eggs, the mating rituals of Adélie penguins and the habit of killer whales to play with their food.
Spexico: With Penguins no less. The Adélie group with Ramon have Spanish/Mexican accents, and the chicks they try to impress have Colombian accents.
Tertiary Sexual Characteristics: The females all have pink spots on their beaks instead of orange like the males', their white undersides are hourglass-shaped while the males' are straighter, and they have more pronounced chests than the males with the yellow markings on top of their in V shapes rather than on their necks.
The Reveal: Erik's (Mumble's son) talent is opera.
Translation Convention: And some Fridge Brilliance in one. Emperor Penguins tell their mates in colonies by their vocalizations, which humans can't readily distinguish differences in but the penguins can. How to translate these subtle vocal variations into human terms? Have them each sing a different song!
What Were You Thinking?: Gloria asks a version of this after she discovers that Mumble singing to her at the mating season is really him lip-syncing to Ramon's singing. Possibly doubles as a stronger What the Hell, Hero? because Mumble was effectively lying about his heartsong.
Gloria: Mumble, what could you possibly be thinking?