When it comes to animated movies I saw as a kid, I don't remember a lot of films I saw in theaters. However, one exception I remember seeing clearly was watching "Happy Feet" coming out in 2006. I was six when the film came out and it was also my first introduction to the work of legendary director George Miller. This was a film I did like as a kid and even had the soundtrack to the movie and I also remember how the film was a cultural phenomenon. It became the talk for a few years after it won the Oscar and even the butt of a joke in animated movies in 2007 with a joke in "Surf's Up" sticking out to me in particular as at the beginning of the film, the mockumentary crew asked surfer penguin Cody if he had any special talents with him replying "Like what singing and dancing? Ha, ha. Yeah, not me, man." Over time, the film has now largely been seen as a minor blimp in Miller's filmography especially after "Mad Max: Fury Road" came out. I hadn't seen "Happy Feet" in years so I was curious to see how it held up. Fortunately, I was surprised to discover it held up very well. While far from a perfect film, I still found it a lot to love about it.
In Antarctica in the land of the emperor penguins, two penguins named Norma Jean (Nicole Kidman) and Memphis (Hugh Jackman) meet through song, fall in love, and have an egg. When Norma Jean leaves with the other female penguins to go fishing, Memphis remains with the males during the winter keeping their eggs safe. However, during the winter, Memphis accidentally drops his egg. When spring comes again, the egg hatches, but Norma Jean's and Memphis notice that their new son Mumble (Elijah Wood) is different from the other penguins. Instead of having a heart song, he has what Mumble calls "happy feet" where he constantly dances and in fact can't sign at all. Even their attempts to try to teach him to sing fail despite defense from Norma Jean and Mumble's friend Gloria (Brittany Murphy), Mumble becomes an outcast among the emperor penguins. After leaving Emperor Land, he comes across a group of Adelie penguins known as the Amigos led by Ramon (Robin Williams). While in the Adelie land, Mumble notices weird things that he feels have to do with "aliens" as in his youth, a skua told him about it. Hoping to seek answers on the "aliens" and reasons why the fish in Antarctica are disappearing, Mumble sets off with the Amigos trying to figure out what's happening.
Looking back on this film, it is sad to see how it's mostly been forgotten and unfairly dismissed compared to George Miller's other films. It could be because five years later after this film, Miller made a very unnecessary sequel to this movie which failed and showed why some animated films should be better left as standalone. The first film, however, I think holds up exceptionally well. The story isn't perfect, but it really works. It takes on some interesting themes including prejudice, culture, and even religion that it really made the film seem very interesting. I won't lie when I say that the first half isn't perfect as it should be. It does delve into the lives of penguins and what their style is like similar to the documentary "March of the Penguins" and while I certainly didn't mind it, I can see it getting tiresome quickly for someone who isn't infatuated with learning about nature. Also, the dance and musical numbers are fun but can get tiresome after a while. It's the second half of the film where the film really becomes great and shows its true potential. I found the subplot of the disappearance of the fish the best part of the film and it led to a great scene where Mumble, the Amigos, and a guru penguin named Lovelace (also Williams), discover an abandoned human village on the edge of the continent. Scenes that added to the mystery of the "aliens" are what really drove the plot home for me. With that said though, some scenes don't fit and feel like filler including a scene where Gloria follows Mumble and Mumble turns her away as well as a scene where Mumble, the Amigos, and Lovelace encounter some hungry orcas that went on too long. They should've been cut to save time. As far as the animation goes, it still looks fantastic. While the character animation is decent and still looks good, it's the environments that look amazing. I'm very critical when it comes to films set around snow, ice, or water because if done badly, they can look like plastic and jello respectively. Not here though. The film was animated by Animal Logic who would go on to animate "The Lego Movie" and there work really shines here. I read that they had to work with IMB to build a new rendering farm just to make this film and I can say it paid off. As far as the characters go, I like most of them. Mumble is innocent enough and Elijah Wood brings enough dignity and kindness to him. The Amigos and Lovelace are driven by funny performances from the late Robin Williams and he brings his A-game to the table here brilliantly. I also liked Mumble's parents Norma Jean and Memphis although I found that their characters being based on Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley off-putting at first. It won me over by the end of the movie though and I was able to put that behind me. Gloria did seem like a bland character though. It seemed she was only there for Mumble to have a love interest and nothing more and came off like a blank slate. There was nothing that really defined her except she could sing beautifully, but since the other penguins could sing beautifully like her, it didn't really make her unique. I wish Miller developed out her character more and made her more distinct. Also, I found Miller's constant use of the wipe cut transition tiring for this film. It didn't work for me with the sequel and it certainly didn't work for me in the first film.
Apart from that, I still really enjoyed "Happy Feet". The story has a slow first start but really picks up and gets fantastic in the second half, the animation has aged beautifully and looks gorgeous to this day, and the characters mostly work although some of them could've been better. While I certainly don't think this is a perfect animated film and don't know if it should've won the Oscar as I found "Monster House" a tad bit better, I still really liked it. I think you should give it a chance and put aside the mentality of that "dancing penguin film from the director of Mad Max". It has aged better than you think.