Thursday, September 17, 2009

In Which Trish gives up and watches "Happy Feet"!

Yes, even though, ages ago, I said I didn't feel like I'd ever need to. Because this movie about a penguin who tap-dances to bad covers of popular songs can't possibly be a fraction as entertaining as reading the message boards and discussion threads where people, people who are probably reasonable adults in real life, have ridiculously intense arguments about (just as a reminder) a movie about a tap-dancing penguin.

As you may recall, the animation-enjoying population of the internet was essentially ripped asunder when this thing won Best Animated Feature. If you do not recall, or you want to relive the magic and wonder of that experience, here's the relevant Cartoon Brew thread. (Bring marshmallows. Lots of them.)

It was partially that and partially rereading this Onion AV Club review of "Babe: Pig in the City" that inspired me to add it to the ol' Netflix Queue. I rented "Pig in the City" as well and was able to watch both films back to back. (It is three-thirty in the morning as I write this fresh off the experience.) My reaction to "City" was nearly identical to that of Scott Tobias and his readers. It is a brilliant, criminally underrated, beautiful film that is also batsh*t insane in all the right ways; "the stuff of impeccably choreographed nightmares". The animals are better actors than most humans and, best of all, the voice-over acting is refreshingly understated with help from a witty, oddly moving script. Naturally, I was pumped for "Happy Feet".

As I mentioned, it is very early in the morning as I write this. I could probably just say that I can see why people were, shall we say, opinionated about this movie.

Let's get it out of the way: the Mo-Cap is
ugly. There's something off-putting about human eyes and giant, humanlike mouths and tongues in an otherwise fairly realistic nonhuman creature. There's something off-putting about seeing a creature that is anatomically wildly different than a human move and act like a human. I never thought I'd ever feel like I was hit with the Uncanny Valley stick by a cartoon penguin.

The voices are downright surreal. Why hire Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman for your animated film if they're just going to do lame impressions of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe? What the hell is the point? Why not hire actual voice actors who'd do better imitations? And why oh
why do we have to be hearing Robin Williams come out of the noise-hole of every other character? (OK, maybe it just sounds that way after a while. Still.)

The songs are beyond surreal. Sometimes you can tell, during a musical whose soundtrack is made up of pre-existing songs, that the people who compiled the songs were only seeking catchy beats and tunes or focused on one or two lyrics relevant to the story. This is such a musical. Boy, is it ever such a musical. There's a scene where an adorable/creepily humanlike baby penguin sings "The Message" by Grandmaster Flash, and I do not believe that it is possible for any living thing with breath in their body to watch this scene without going: Yer head asplode.

As far as the story... Okay, WTF was the lesson here? Pick a moral, kids!
* - Animals are only interesting when they act like people.
* - If there is something new and different, everyone must eventually conform to this new thing or else.
* - If you are different and/or special, your life is going to suck. Hard. Even if you eventually save the day, you must expect to be banished at some point. Probably by your own family.
* - The last wild places in the world, those uninhabited by mankind, are worth saving. If they're amusing to humans. If not, f*** 'em.

The film also boasts a memorably awkward happy ending, the last moral on my list (I guess I was supposed to get "save the penguins" out of it but it sure doesn't come across that way) is delivered with all the subtlety of an entire season of "Captain Planet", and did I mention that Robin Williams voices more than one major character? I don't even know how to react to this movie. It is astonishing. Not the good kind of astonishing, but the "What the hell did I just watch?" kind of astonishing.

Overall, Best Animated Feature of 2006? Really?
Really? REALLY?!? So the lesson I'm taking is that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences obviously hates Richard Linkletter's animated films with the white hot fury of a thousand stars.

Oh, the well-loved Tex Avery short, "I Love to Singa" is on the DVD, and I find this ironic, funny, and sad because it owns the hell out of "Happy Feet".

Edit: As I feared, dancing creepily humanlike penguins haunted my dreams last night. So here is the original "The Message" (language warning).

As you watch it, ask yourself
where an Emperor Penguin - a newly hatched Emperor Penguin yet - ever got the concept of "jungle". (And speaking of concepts a penguin would/should not be aware of, are there penguins addicted to heroin? Homeless schizophrenic penguins? Penguins being harassed by the Man? WTF?!?)




Addendum: Albertonychus' review!

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