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Western Animation / Happy Feet

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Happy Feet is a CGI-animated 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 the elders exile him from the Emperor Penguin colony.

Happy Feet is 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 is shown 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 provides examples of:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: Gloria is less than pleased at Ramón after he flirts with her after singing "My Life".
  • Abandoned Area: The Forbidden Shore is home to an abandoned whaling station.
  • Against the Grain: Singing is inherent to the penguins' culture, but Mumble has a terrible singing voice. When Mumble wishes to dance instead of sing, he disappoints the governing elders and his father (who feels he is to blame after dropping Mumble when he was an egg). By the end, however, the colony accepts Mumble's quirks. Dancing even becomes commonly practiced, especially as seen in the sequel.
  • Agent Mulder:
    • Subverted. Mumble only believes in aliens (humans) outside the ice, nobody believes him until he gets proof (even then, some still refuse to believe him), and he's right. Played somewhat straighter with the Boss Skua.
    • Lovelace pretends to disbelieve him, but he also knows they exist.
  • All in the Manual: Mumble's name is actually Mambo in early materials, but in the children's Novelization Gloria mispronounces it and his father just laughs Sure, Let's Go with That. It served as Foreshadowing, since one of the cheered lyrics in "Boogie Wonderland" is "MAMBO!", indicating that yes, Mumble was a part of Gloria's Heart Song.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: Due to his singing abilities, Mumble is viewed as an outsider by his peers and the leaders of the penguin society, with his parents as the sole exception.
  • 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 temporary 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.
  • Artistic License – Biology:
    • Emperor penguins don't mate for life as implied in the film. They're monogamous — but typically only for a year. Fidelity between years is about 15%.
    • 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 got to it. Justified in the context of the story, because that's what Memphis feared happened, and that even a millisecond in the cold made Mumble disabled (in the sense that he can't sing like the other penguins naturally can, which is implied to being caused by being dropped as an egg).
    • Elephant seals are dangerously territorial. Not even penguins would have been left alive by them. Then again, justified — as the seals don't attack because they respect Lovelace.
  • Artists Are Attractive: How penguin society seems to function. Emperor penguins sing to attract their mates, and even Mumble ends up winning over Gloria because of how skilled he is at dancing.
  • Astronomic Zoom: Twice.
  • Australian Movies: Directed by one of the larger directors in the country. The director of Mad Max, in fact.
  • Backing Away Slowly: When the orcas temporarily beach themselves on the ice, Lovelace berates them for their failed attempt at killing him, Mumble, and the Amigos. The orcas then slowly back up into the water and swim away, but not because of Lovelace. All the penguins turn around to see a massive ship breaking through the ice and coming their way!
  • Badass Creed: Noah and the elder penguins loudly declare "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!"
  • Book Ends:
    • The film begins and ends with P!nk singing the final songs from Abbey Road ("Golden Slumbers" and "The End".)
    • In the opening, Memphis crows, "I think I'm gonna dance now!" In the end, he tells Mumble, "I think you better dance now."
  • Break Her Heart to Save Her: After Mumble's exile, Gloria follows him and admits her feelings for him, and it's implied that he sent her away because he knew she'd be better off with a penguin who could sing, and that he's about to go on a potentially dangerous journey to communicate with the "aliens" and didn't want to put Gloria in danger. She's aware of what he's doing, just disgusted by it.
  • Brick Joke: Mrs. Astrakhan tells Mumble to be "spontan-you-us!" with a Russian accent. Every time he says it afterward, he pronounces it the same way.
  • Brief Accent Imitation: When Noah strikes one of his friends, Mumble threatens him with a Spanish accent.
  • 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 communicate 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 killer whales are portrayed as scar-covered, possibly unintelligent monsters that, unlike the other animals, never speak "penguin" (although since orcas are considered one of the smartest creatures on the planet, it's more likely they're not interested in talking to their food), 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, though it does speak to the penguins threateningly. All in all, the predators are basically portrayed as the penguins would view them, rather than how humans would.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: The movie starts out as a lighthearted story about an awkward penguin who dances instead of singing. However after Mumble is banished, the story gets progressively darker and more dramatic, focusing on Mumble’s quest to find the ‘aliens’. In fact, after the Boogie Wonderland sequence, there isn’t another song until right at the end of the film.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Humans can't hear penguin speech as anything but squawks. However, dancing is a visual medium...
  • Childhood Brain Damage: Mumble's egg being dropped by his father is the main reason he's so odd among the other penguins. Maybe. Dancing may be In the Blood, since Memphis does dance even during the march. (Not to mention it being the whole reason he drops the egg in the first place.)
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Mumble and Gloria are close from childhood; Gloria saw Mumble come out of his egg (even being the one to encourage him to hatch as she tapped on his egg) and defended him when his classmates mocked his inability to sing. Eventually, they mate as adults.
  • The Chosen One: Mumble, since he can't sing. Singing is useless when communicating with aliens. Dancing, however...
  • Copycat Mockery: The skuas have heard their leader complain about being captured by aliens (in reality, humans who put a tracking collar on his foot), they mime and lip sync his entire story.
  • Crowd Song: "Boogie Wonderland".
  • Culture Police: The Elders, particularly over dancing.
  • Dance Line: Some of the penguins form one 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.
  • Delayed Narrator Introduction: Lovelace. See Living Legend below.
  • 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.
  • Devious Dolphins: Two orcas come across Mumble, Lovelace, and the Amigos once they reach the Forbidden Shore. While they are somewhat playful by flinging Mumble and Lovelace back and forth to each other, they are indeed very dangerous to the penguins and come close to eating them.
  • 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 an autistic person (or someone with any other condition).
    • 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. It doubles as Ironic considering that Elijah Wood is actually a pretty decent singer.
    Rinaldo: (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: 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 make people care about them more; a frantic montage of political activity leads to international fishing fleets withdrawing from Antarctic waters.
  • The Exile: Noah has Mumble exiled from the colony since the latter doesn't have a heartsong.
  • 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."
  • Feet-First Introduction: How adult Mumble is introduced.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The film opens on a shot of the entire Earth. It seems at first to just emphasize how remote Antarctica is, but it indicates just how large a scope the film encompasses, especially when Mumble swims to Florida.
    • 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!"
    • Memphis drops the egg because he cries out "I think I'm gonna dance now!" Dancing may be In the Blood, and it hints that dancing is a natural-but-suppressed inclination of penguins.
  • Free-Range Children : Subverted. A young Mumble tap-dancing all by himself, without any adult supervision on top of the cliffside away from the Emperor Penguin colony makes him an easy target for predators such as the Boss Skua and his goons.
  • Funny Background Event: The other skuas in the background start mimicking the Boss Skua perfectly while he tells Mumble his story.
    • During the “Boogie Wonderland” scene, one of the elders can be seen dancing to the beat before another smacks him upside the head.
  • Get Out!: Noah banishes Mumble not only for not having a heartsong because Memphis dropped him as an egg, but under the belief that his dancing (which they find abnormal) has caused their food shortage.
  • 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 Mumble's 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, as, while the other penguins can sing, his notes come out squeaky, harsh, and off-key. Adding to this, when he's a hatchling, we do see other hatchlings being taught to hone their singing, he tries but doesn't grasp it, implying that some of it is innate.
  • 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 artifacts (garbage) and huge structures (an abandoned Antarctic whaling base, a factory fishing ship), which are, to them, as incomprehensible and unknowable as the Jupiter Monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The large predators, especially the killer whales, show scars from propellers.
    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.
    • The albatross in the deleted scene is basically just Steve Irwin as a bird.
  • Innocent Blue Eyes: Mumble's most striking characteristic.
  • Instant Sedation: Implied. A hawk mentions that after being caught by humans, one of them stuck a needle in him and he "was blackened".
  • I Shall Return: After the Elders exile him from the colony, Mumble declares that he will return once he finds out what's actually happened to the fish. Sure enough, he does.
  • It Can Think: A rare inverted version of this trope, where we see this play out from the perspective of the "it", in this case the penguins. When the human researchers witness the penguin colony's dance routine and the footage goes viral, it sparks global debate over realizations that the penguins are smart enough to not only organize the dance routine, but attempt direct communication with humans to let them know of the overfishing threatening their population, which ultimately results in new fishing laws enacted in the Antarctic to protect the penguin population.
  • Jukebox Musical: A lot of the music is old R&B, funk, and rock songs.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: When the humans show up at the colony by helicopter, even Noah turns to Mumble to decide what to do next.
  • Language Barrier: Humans and penguins can't understand each other. Mumble eventually finds a way to break the barrier. Dancing is a visual medium, and the humans realize something is wrong when the penguins begin to dance like humans (and are led to believe that humans did it to them somehow.)
  • Large Ham: Lovelace and Noah, especially the former.
  • 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.
  • Love at First Note: This is the "normal way" Emperor Penguins find their mates. This sort of makes sense as their society revolves around singing as their main way of expression, communication, and religious worship.
  • Mama Bear: Despite her calm, loving demeanor, Norma Jean is this. She is openly accepting of Mumble's differences and yells at her husband to not talk negatively about him during the film's climax; the only time we see her truly angry with Memphis. She was also the first and only emperor penguin, in their extremely conformist and conservative society, to dare oppose the Elders, verbally lashing out at them (which alone was shocking to the colony) when they exile Mumble. She also expressed great disdain for them during the graduation ceremony when they refused to let Mumble graduate, mocking them as she says that her son had every right to graduate as the other students.
  • Meaningful Name: Several.
    • "Mumble" can't sing and has a name that denotes trouble speaking.
      • Original materials such as storybooks and press materials reveal that his name is "Mambo", but baby Gloria called him "Mumble" and it stuck. "Mambo" is a kind of dance.
    • "Memphis" is famous for Elvis, who Memphis' singing style mirrors.
    • Noah is trying to save the penguins, just as "Noah" saved the humans in genesis.
    • invoked Gloria's heartsong is *Boogie* Wonderland, of course, she'd be attracted to someone who can dance. You'll notice she can't say the keyword - "DANCE!!!" - her entire life until Mumble practically forces it out of her.
      • Adding on to this: Gloria’s father’s name is Maurice, a possible nod to Maurice White.
    • Mumble's mother is named "Norma Jean," which was Marilyn Monroe's birth name. She even has a beauty mark on her chest, as a reference to Monroe's facial mark.
  • 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. (It's an environment tailored to their comfort, safe from predators, and with a guaranteed food supply - from their point of view, it couldn't be better. However, the film also implies they're somewhat brain fried due to living in this "heaven" for so long.)
  • Mistakes Are Not the End of the World: "The Song of the Heart" as performed by Prince has this in its lyrics.
    Look, everybody makes mistakes- oh yeah, not one or two (Right!) / But that don't make the dirty little things they say about you true!
  • 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.
  • Non-Standard Character Design: Mumble's adult form stands out the most among the other emperors because he looks like his young self in adult form.
  • 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!: All the penguins react this way when the aliens arrive at their home in a helicopter.
    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.
  • Roger Rabbit Effect: Reversed, as its human actors superimposed in the CG film. You know it's good when it's hard to tell.
  • Rugged Scar: One of the orcas encountered at the Forbidden Shore has several scars across its back. It’s possible it got these cuts from a boat’s propellers.
  • Sanity Slippage: Mumble at the Florida aquarium. The Village Voice stated that it was a 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.
    • The killer whales are seriously scarred by propellers, which is true of many whales in the wild.
  • 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 from various genres of music 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 foodnote .
  • Sickly Green Glow: The "really real" water in the aquarium is this, a Five-Second Foreshadowing for Mumble that alls not right there.
  • Sliding Scale of Anthropomorphism: Quite far on the Talking Animal side. All the animals look more realistically designed, but most of them are capable of speech. All the penguins are capable of speaking to other animals like skuas, elephant seals, and leopard seals. Oddly enough, the orcas don’t seem to be capable of speech despite being predatory mammals that eat penguins like the leopard seal.
  • 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 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.
    Mumble: (desperately) YOU'RE STEALING OUR F-I- (squawk!) (squawk!)
  • Troll: Seriously, the adelies 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.
  • Wham Line: An in-universe example, since the audience already knew this from the beginning.
    Memphis: I was a backslider myself, I was careless. And now we're paying the price.
    Norma Jean: What's this got to do with Mumble?
    Memphis: It's why he is the way he is.
    Norma Jean: But there's nothing wrong with him!
    Memphis: Face it, Norma Jean, our son's all messed up!
    Norma Jean: He’s not messed up, you hear me?
    Memphis: Believe me, I know he is!
    Norma Jean: How can you say that?!
  • 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.


Video Example(s):


Happy Feet: Watch the beak

Baby Mumble pulls this on Memphis when asked to get under him and get warm.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (15 votes)

Example of:

Main / GroinAttack

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