Western Animation / Happy Feet

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I Just Wanted A Movie About Tap-dancing Penguins!!!

Happy Feet is a CGI film from 2006. It was the feature debut of animation studio Animal Logic and the first animated film to be directed by George Miller.

The protagonist of the film, 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.

Notable for being one of the darker animated family films of The Millennium Age of Animation (not that the advertisements would have tipped you off) and is often compared favorably to Watership Down, both in its tone and the fact that it's entirely from an animal's point of view. It was also a groundbreaker in Motion Capture technology: while most of the character animation was done by animators, all of the dancing was mocapped from legendary tap dancer Savion Glover.

A sequel was released on November 18th, 2011. For tropes relating to that movie, see Happy Feet Two.


This film provide examples of:

  • Adult Fear: 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 (the equivalent of dropping a newborn baby on its head.) 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.
    • Worse, just before he dropped the egg, he sang, "I think I'm gonna dance now!" and it was his little jig that dislodged it, so to him, dancing was the villain that might have caused him to be careless.
  • 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.
  • Alternative Foreign Theme Song: The Japanese version uses "Hoshi wo Mezashite" by NEWS as the theme song. One of the singers voiced Mumble in the dub.
  • Animal Religion: The Great Guin, whom the penguins believe provide them with fish in the sea. Thanks to overfishing, the penguins think the Great Guin is testing them. Mumble discovering it's humans, not the Great Guin, causes a temporarily schism between penguin factions.
  • Art Shift: Most of the humans are live-action. The one group that isn't is the group tracking Mumble back to the others.
  • Astronomic Zoom: Twice.
  • Artistic License Biology: Penguins don't mate for life as implied in the film. They're monogamous — for a year. Then they find a new mate.
    • Penguin chicks cannot stand on the ice immediately after hatching nor do they hatch fluffy and dry.
    • Memphis's egg should have frozen before he even gotten to it.
  • Australian Movies: Directed by one of the larger directors in the country. The director of Mad Max, in fact.
  • Badass Creed: "When all others leave..." "WE REMAIN!"
  • Be Yourself: One of the movie's Aesops is that Mumble makes all the difference in the world by being himself.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The Spanish portion of "Boogie Wonderland" Raul sings translates as "I am Raul, the coolest penguin, Latino of course, one hundred percent Spanish! My brothers! (What?), they call me crazy. A little lady lights me like flame. The party- dance, dance little girl! My heart has dynamite! BOOM! Let me be your penguin daddy!"
  • 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, he all but lost his mind." Then things pick up again.
  • Carnivore Confusion: 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 Mumble as a chick, but he manages to distract them and escape. The whales are portrayed as scar-covered, possibly unintelligent monsters that, unlike the other animals, never speak "penquin", the elephant seals are passed off as "vegetarians" (though only according to Ramón) and they act rather thuggish and intimidating, and the leopard seal is basically the Antarctic equivalent of an evil dragon. All in all, the predators are basically portrayed as the penguins would view them, rather than how humans would.
  • Childhood Brain Damage/For Want of a Nail: 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.
  • 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.
  • The Chosen One: Mumble, since he can't sing. Singing is useless when communicating with aliens. Dancing, however...
  • Crowd Song: "Boogie Wonderland".
  • Culture Police: The Elders, particularly over dancing.
  • Dance Line: At the end.
  • Dance Party Ending: Expected, seeing that the movie is about a dancing penguin.
  • Dancing Is Serious Business: If It weren't for dancing, the entire colony of penguins would've starved to death.
  • Determinator: Nothing will stop Mumble from dancing, dammit. Also, his pursuit of the aliens. Keep in mind, he ends up in Florida, which means Mumble crossed the equator.
    Lovelace: (narrating) Enraged by their indifference, he followed them long after they had gone from his sight. He swam further than any of us had before, past all hope of return. Swept up by the currents, he was carried endlessly, across vast oceans, to worlds unknown.
  • Delayed Narrator Introduction: Lovelace. See Living Legend below.
  • 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.
    • The Tap Vs. Song moment in the film is treated like a religious schism. Unlike Real Life examples, both sides realize both viewpoints are not only not exclusive, but complementary.
  • Dreadful Musician: Mumble
    Ramón: (after hearing Mumble singing) Yeah, I heard an animal once do that, but then they rolled him over and he was dead.
    • Doubles as Ironic considering that Elijah Wood is actually a pretty decent singer.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: 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.
  • Everything's Better with Penguins: Well, they certainly didn't make this movie because they thought everything was better with Elephant Seals.
  • Family-Unfriendly Violence: The seal and the whale scenes are often cited as just plain terrifying. And they are.
  • Fantastic Racism: The penguin elders call the Adélie penguins "filthy vermin."
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Notice how all the penguins hatch out of their eggs with their beaks first, except Mumble, who's first body parts we see are his feet. And dancing.
    • Gloria's heartsong is "Boogie Wonderland", and she can't get past a certain point. Those who know the lyrics know she has to sing, "You say your prayers though you don't care; you singnote  and shake the hurt and DANCE!"
  • Feet-First Introduction: How adult Mumble is introduced.
  • Funny Background Event: The other skuas in the background start mimicking the Boss Skua perfectly while he tells Mumble his story.
  • Got Me Doing It: Near the end when the humans are recording all of the penguins dancing, they start to dance along with them.
  • Greek Chorus: Ramón and his friends often do this, such as narrating Mumbles efforts to get Gloria to leave, and at one point providing Mumble's singing voice.
  • 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.
  • Groin Attack: Baby Mumble pulls this on Memphis.
    Memphis: Watch the beak, watch the beak, BEAK!
    Memphis: (audibly in pain) The beak.
  • Hollywood Tone-Deaf: Mumble's problem throughout the film.
  • 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 2001: A Space Odyssey.
    Mumble: They don't even know we exist.
  • 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.
  • Jukebox Musical: A lot of the music is oldies songs.
  • Large Ham: Lovelace and Noah, especially the former.
  • Life Imitates Art: In 2011, an emperor penguin was found on a Peka Peka beach, on New Zealand northwest coast. The public was quick to dub the lost bird "Happy Feet Jr."Like his namesake, the bird was taken in by Wellington Zoo, rehabilitated, and released back into the wild affixed with a satellite tracking device.
  • Living Legend: When Mumble decides to go after the aliens (in the process becoming the "first flying flipper bird" by diving off a cliff after a fishing boat), Lovelace promises to honor his memory.
    Lovelace: I'm gonna be tellin' your story, Mumble Happy Feet! Long after you dead and gone!
  • Lotus-Eater Machine: The zoo to penguins. Mumble doesn't buy it.
  • 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: Several.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: What seems like a happy little singing-and-dancing penguin movie ends up having a lot more scope.
  • 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, though the film also implies they're somewhat brain fried.)
  • Monstrous Seal: A leopard seal is a recurring antagonist of the penguin heroes.
  • Mood Whiplash: Happy dancing to "Boogie Wonderland", and then Mumble's banishment! Then a hard journey across the ice to find Robin Williams, so wacky fun comes into play again. Then it gets serious again, and so on.
  • Motion Capture: Used for the dancing scenes with a team of dancers headed by Savion Glover.
  • 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.
  • No Cartoon Fish: See Carnivore Confusion, above.
  • Non-Mammal Mammaries: The female penguins don't have breasts in the mammalian sense, but they do have feminine shading on their chests.
  • Not So Above It All: When confronted by aliens, every penguin realizes they always had the power to dance — including and especially the Elder.
  • No Social Skills: Mumble has a slightly awkward sense of humor and doesn't always appear to grasp social nuances.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    Memphis: ... I think you better dance now.
  • Oh My Gods!: The penguins' god is "the great Guin".
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Roger Rabbit Effect: Reversed, as it's human actors superimposed in the CG film. You know it's good when it's hard to tell.
  • Sanity Slippage: Mumble at the Florida aquarium. The Village Voice stated that it was perfectly realized envisioning of penguin insanity.
  • Scars Are Forever: Mumble's bitten tail remains with him forever.
    • The physical deformations caused by Memphis dropping him as an egg also seem to be life-lasting.
  • Shoo the Dog: Mumble does this to Gloria when she insists on following him to find the aliens. Ramón and company don't help by singing, "Baby Please Don't Go" afterward.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Mumble's delirious hallucinations call him "Dave".
    • The scene in which the penguins dance for humans is a direct reference to Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The humans are even standing atop a hill that resembles Devil's Tower, while the penguins use dance to communicate like the humans communicated with aliens with music. The track on the soundtrack album is called "Communication".
  • 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.
  • Sliding Scale of Anthropomorphism: Quite far on the Talking Animal side.
  • The Song Remains the Same: Most dubs, except for the Portuguese one.
  • Spexico: With Penguins no less. The Adélie group with Ramon have Spanish/Mexican accents, and the chicks they try to impress have Colombian accents.
  • Stealth Pun: The penguins use the term "backsliding" several times. This is a real term used to refer to a relapse into sinful behavior, and was probably used because penguins are known for sliding on their bellies, therefore "back-sliding" would be a defiance of the natural way of things.
  • 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 chests in V-shapes rather than on their necks. But a male penguin sporting a pink beak can be seen when Mumble is catching up with the newly-graduated young penguins. No one in the colony mentions this so it likely was just a detail mistake, or to show that Real Men Wear Pink.
  • This Is Gonna Suck:
    Rinaldo: They're making us appetizers!
    Ramón: They're appe-teasing us! Ha, ha, ha! (beat) We're gonna die.
  • Title Drop: Lovelace dubs Mumble "Happy Feet". It becomes his surname.
  • Translation Convention: 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! It becomes a Plot Point, because all the humans hear when Mumble tries to speak to them is squawking. Dancing is a visual medium, and the humans realize something is wrong when pegnuins begin to dance like humans (and are led to believe that humans did it to them somehow.)
  • Troll: Seriously, the rockhoppers singing "Baby Don't Go" after Gloria storms off isn't appreciated by Mumble.
  • Undying Loyalty: A subtle example, but there was no reason for Ramon and the rest to remain in the Emperor penguin colony.
  • 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?
    Mumble: I...I don't know what else to do.
  • Victorious Childhood Friend: Mumble ultimately gets the girl.


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