Very, Very, VERY Unhappy Eyes
All right. I have to do this. I feel it is my duty as a storyteller, as a fan of penguins, and as a person, to warn you: DO NOT go see the movie Happy Feet. Or if you do, brace yourself for the weirdest, most disturbing, most peculiar animated movie ever. I have not been this disturbed by a movie since Starship Troopers (yeah, turns out I don’t like stories where the good guys get their brains sucked out by alien bugs while the stupid guys stroll off into the sunset with their big white teeth gleaming). And this is much much worse, because it is packaged as a cute singing and dancing penguin movie for kids. I know! I should be the exact target audience for a singing and dancing penguin movie! (Well, me and four-year-olds). You’re probably even thinking right now, how bad could it be? It’s about singing and dancing penguins! And Robin Williams does a wacky Mexican voice!
You may have heard some of the criticism — about the blatantly stereotypical treatment of the tiny Mexican penguins, the overzealous wackiness of Robin Williams, or the heavy-handed pro-environment and anti-religious messages. Most of that didn’t bother me all that much (although I think “heavy-handed” is a polite way to describe how the audience is brutally bludgeoned by the message sledgehammer). However, I have yet to see a review where the critic manages to capture how deeply, deeply creepy this movie is on a purely storytelling level and in its visual aesthetics.
I’ll try to be fair: there are a few cute parts of the movie. I did really laugh at the line: “You tried your best. You did everything penguinly possible.” And the music is pretty fun in parts.
My problems with the movie start right from the first scene, when we discover that female penguins are going to be distinguished from the male penguins by giving them hips and shading their chest feathers to look like cleavage. This is NOT OK. If you must do wacky things to feminize your animated penguins, for the love of God, give them eyelashes — do not give them PENGUIN BOOBS!
And then an adorable baby penguin is born, named Mumble, who is covered in gray fuzz and is totally adorable, just like all the other adorable baby penguins popping out at the same time all around him.
Except. Time goes by. All these penguins grow up. As penguins do, they lose their gray fuzz and gradually look like regular sleek black penguins (who are also perfectly cute, especially when they don’t have penguin boobs).
BUT NOT MUMBLE!
No! For NO APPARENT REASON, Mumble never loses his gray feathers. Even though he is clearly with a group of penguins who hatched at the same time as him, and who are all black and look like NORMAL PENGUINS, Mumble stays soft and gray and fuzzy…FOR THE ENTIRE MOVIE. Even though it is clearly implied that YEEEEEEARS have passed by the end. Even though not a single other adult penguin looks anything like him.
I know they think this makes him cuter. I know they think this helps him stand out from a crowd (but he already has blue eyes — wouldn’t that suffice? couldn’t they do something else? isn’t this just lazy animation?). But let me tell you, it is NOT cute. It is CREEPY. I spent the ENTIRE movie with my skin crawling from the look of the eternally-fuzzy alien-looking penguin. There’s no explanation! And it makes him look like a pre-teen, which makes his sexaayyyyy scenes with the fully-grown, fully normal (except for the boobs) female penguin just WRONG. As if Elijah Wood circa “The Good Son” is hooking up with Catherine Zeta-Jones circa now. Why not let him be a real penguin? How on earth could you possibly look at this:
and think, hmmm, nope, not cute enough???
It is SO SQUICKY.
But even THAT isn’t as creepy as one particular moment at the end of the movie. I’ll try not to give away the ending (ha) (although you shouldn’t care, since you should not see it!). Basically, Mumble is facing a group of penguins, giving an inspirational speech…and suddenly we (and they) notice something…
Mumble has an antenna sticking out of his back.
An ANTENNA! A long, black, wiggly radio antenna.
Gloria says slowly, and with almost as much horror in her voice as I felt, “Mumble…turn around.”
And when he does, you see that there is a glowing, beeping, button-covered robot box embedded in Mumble’s back. It doesn’t look like it’s strapped on in any way. It seriously looks like it is just buried in his skin. And it has an ANTENNA sticking out of it, which waves menacingly every time Mumble moves.
Seriously, I get this horrified sick feeling in my stomach every time I remember it. It’s like in a horror movie, in that moment where you realize the likable supporting character has now become a zombie or a flesh-eating demon…or A ROBOT. Possibly a robot killing machine!
It’s supposed to be okay, because Mumble knows about the box, and he thinks it’s great! Not that he had a choice about getting it, but having an antenna sticking out of him is awesome! It’s going to save the day! Which it does, in a really peculiar, partly live action sequence that literally made me cry, it was so awful.
And this isn’t even mentioning the traumatizing “zoos turn penguins into depressed hallucinating zombies” storyline, or the “old penguins look like horrifying decaying jowly humans” look, or the ludicrous “penguin chases fishing ships all the way to New York” plot development. I’m also restraining myself from complaining about the boring, breathy, stay-at-home-while-the-boys-save-the-day female characters. (At one point, Gloria tries to stand by Mumble and join his quest, but even though she knows he is just trying to drive her away, he still manages to scare her off with the flimsiest, stupidest, most cliché-riddled, out-of-character fight I’ve ever seen, just so the writers can send the girl off home again and let the boy have all the adventures with his gang of five male Mexican penguins.)
But believe me: there are plenty of other disturbing things about this movie.
So I’m warning you. This is not the fluffy musical penguin movie you think it is. Beware! Run for your lives! Penguin boobs! Inappropriate penguin sex references! Creepy eternally-adolescent penguin! Creepy robot-antenna penguin! Disturbing may-or-may-not-be-animated humans! Traumatizing movie! Save yourselves!
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
Quote of the Day: “Semantic quibbling? I wouldn’t call it that.” — John Oliver on The Daily Show