Happy Feet is a 2006 Australian-American computer-animated musical family film, directed and co-written by George Miller. It was produced at Sydney-based visual effects and animation studio Animal Logic for Warner Bros., Village Roadshow Pictures and Kingdom Feature Productions and was released in North American theaters on November 17, 2006. It is the first animated film produced by Kennedy Miller in association with visual effects/design company Animal Logic.
Though primarily an animated film, Happy Feet does incorporate motion capture of live action humans in certain scenes. The film was simultaneously released in both conventional theatres and in IMAX 2D format. The studio had hinted that a future IMAX 3D release was a possibility. However, Warner Bros., the film’s production company, was on too tight a budget to release Happy Feet in IMAX digital 3D.
Happy Feet won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and the BAFTA Award for Best Animated Film, and was nominated for the Annie Award for Best Animated Feature and the Saturn Award for Best Animated Film.
The film was dedicated in memory of Nick Enright, Michael Jonson, Robby McNeilly Green, and Steve Irwin.
A sequel, Happy Feet Two, was released into theatres November 18, 2011 and received mixed reviews.
Every Emperor Penguin sings a unique song called a "heartsong" to attract a mate. If the male penguin's heartsong matches the female's song, the two penguins mate. Norma Jean, a female penguin, falls for Memphis, a male penguin and they become mates. They lay an egg, which is left in Memphis' care, while Norma Jean leaves with the other females to fish. While the males struggle through the harsh winter, Memphis briefly drops the egg. The resulting chick, Mumble, has no vocal talent, but can tap dance. Nevertheless, he is enamored with Gloria, a female penguin who is regarded as the most talented of his age. One day, Mumble encounters a group of hostile Skua, with a leader who is tagged with a yellow band, which he claims to have been from an alien abduction. Mumble narrowly escapes the hungry birds by falling into a crevice.
Years later, an adult Mumble is now an outcast who is frowned upon by his elders. After being shunned during the graduates' song, he is attacked by a Leopard Seal. After escaping, he befriends a group of Adélie Penguins called "the Amigos", who embrace Mumble's dance moves and assimilate him into their group. After seeing a hidden human excavator in an avalanche, they opt to ask Lovelace, a Rockhopper Penguin, about its origin. Lovelace has the plastic rings of a six pack entangled around his neck, which he claims to have been bestowed upon him by mystic beings.
For the emperor penguins, it is mating season and Gloria is the center of attention. Ramón tries to help Mumble win her affection by singing a Spanish version of "My Way", with Mumble lip syncing. When Gloria sees Ramón behind Mumble's back, she becomes angry and turns away. As a last resort, Mumble begins tap dancing in synch with her song. She falls for him and all the youthful penguins join in for singing and dancing to "Boogie Wonderland". The elders are appalled by Mumble's conduct, which they see as the reason for their lean fishing season. Memphis begs Mumble to stop dancing, for his own sake, but when Mumble refuses, he is banished.
Mumble and the Amigos return to Lovelace, only to find him being choked by the plastic rings. Lovelace confesses they were snagged on him while swimming off the forbidden shores, beyond the land of the elephant seals. Not long into their journey, they are met by Gloria, who wishes to join with Mumble as his mate. Fearing for his safety, he ostracizes her, driving her away.
At the forbidden shore, the group finds a fishing boat. Mumble pursues it solo to the brink of exhaustion. He is eventually washed up on the shore of Australia, where he is rescued and kept at Marine World (or The Zoo) with Magellanic, Chinstraps, and Little Blue Penguins. After a long and secluded confinement, he nearly succumbs to madness. When a girl attempts to interact with Mumble by tapping the glass, he starts dancing, which attracts a large crowd. He is released back into the wild, with a tracking device attached to his back. He returns to his colony and challenges the will of the elders. Memphis reconciles with him, just as a research team arrives, proving the aliens to be true. The whole of the colony engages in dance.
The research team returns their expedition footage, prompting a worldwide debate. The governments realize they are overfishing, leading to the banning of all Antarctic fishing. At this, the Emperor Penguins and the Amigos celebrate. In the final scene, a baby penguin is seen dancing next to Mumble and Gloria, revealed to be their son Erik in Happy Feet Two.
Miller cites as an initial inspiration for the film an encounter with a grizzled old camera-man, whose father was Frank Hurley of the Shackleton expeditions, during the shooting of Mad Max 2: "We were sitting in this bar, having a milkshake, and he looked across at me and said, ‘Antarctica.’ He’d shot a documentary there. He said, ‘You’ve got to make a film in Antarctica. It’s just like out here, in the wasteland. It’s spectacular.’ And that always stuck in my head.” Happy Feet was also partially inspired by earlier documentaries such as the BBC's Life in the Freezer. In 2001, during an otherwise non-sequiter meeting, Doug Mitchell impulsively presented Warner Bros., studio president Alan Horn with an early rough draft of the film's screenplay, and asked them to read it while he and Miller flew back to Australia. By the time they'd landed, Warner Bros. had decided to provide funding on the film. Production was slated to begin sometime after the completion of the fourth Mad Max film, Fury Road, but geo-political complications pushed Happy Feet to the forefront in early 2003.
An earlier cut of the film seems to have included a large subplot regarding aliens in the extraterrestrial sense, whose presence was made gradually more and more known throughout, and who were planning to siphon off the planet's resources gradually, placing the humans in the same light as the penguins. At the end, through the plight of the main character, 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, although concept art from these sequences were showcased at the Siggraph 2007 demonstration, and are available online, as well.
The animation in Happy Feet invested heavily in motion capture technology, with the dance scenes acted out by human dancers. The tap-dancing for Mumble in particular was provided by Savion Glover who was also co-choreographer for the dance sequences. The dancers went through "Penguin School" to learn how to move like a penguin, and also wore head apparatus to mimic a penguin's beak.
Happy Feet needed an enormous group of computers, and Animal Logic worked with IBM to build a server farm with sufficient processing potential. The film took four years to make. Ben Gunsberger, Lighting Supervisor and VFX Department Supervisor, says this was partly because they needed to build new infrastructure and tools. The server farm used IBM BladeCenter framework and BladeCenter HS20 blade servers, which are extremely dense separate computer units each with two Intel Xeon processors. Rendering took up 17 million CPU hours over a nine-month period.
Happy Feet is a jukebox musical, taking previously recorded songs and working them into the film's soundtrack to fit with the mood of the scene or character. Two soundtrack albums were released for the film; one containing songs from and inspired by the film, and another featuring John Powell's instrumental score. They were released on October 31, 2006 and December 19, 2006, respectively.
Best Animated Feature
American Film Institute Awards
Honored as one of the Top Ten Best Films of the Year
Happy Feet was released on home media on March 27, 2007 in the United States in three formats; DVD (in separate widescreen and pan and scan editions), Blu-ray Disc, and an HD DVD/DVD combo disc.
Among the DVD's special features is a scene that was cut from the film where Mumble meets a blue whale and an Albatross. The albatross was Steve Irwin's first voice role in the film before he voiced the elephant seal in the final cut. The scene was finished and included on the DVD in memory of Steve Irwin. This scene is done in Steve's classic documentary style, with the albatross telling the viewer all about the other characters in the scene, and the impact people are having on their environment.
This movie was one of the two types of media in 2006 in which Elijah Wood's character hatched from an egg and was forced to find where he belonged. The other was The Legend of Spyro: A New Beginning, where he voiced the title character, Spyro.
When Mumble is dancing, you can see three black spots over his ankle area, this is in reference to the spats that used to be worn over shoes in early Fred Astaire dancing movies.
In the scene where Mumble is born, Memphis says "woah" a little bit before Mumble's foot actually comes out of the egg.
While Baby Mumble is with the Skuas, a small black bow can be seen on Mumble's chest. However, when Mumble falls into the crack in the ice, the bow disappears. When the birds fly away, Mumble rolls to the side and begins to cry, with his bow visible again.
During the end credits, there is a typographical error in the music listing for "My Way". It reads, "Performed b Robin Williams".
Initially, Prince refused to allow the use of his song, "Kiss", for the film. However, after seeing footage of the film, he not only changed his mind and allowed the song to be used, but also wrote an additional original song for the film to use in the closing credits.
Norma Jean and Memphis are obviously named for Marilyn Monroe (who was born Norma Jean Mortensen) and Elvis Presley (who lived in Memphis, Tennessee). Their voices and mannerisms are imitations.
Not only does Steve Irwin provide the voice for one of the elephant seals, but he was also originally cast to play an albatross that Mumble encounters as he crosses the ocean after the aliens. The albatross scene was cut from the final movie, but you can see it in the DVD extras. The scene was cut before animation was complete, so no actual animation existed until they were preparing the DVD for release. The director and the production crew felt that they needed to do something following Steve Irwin's death, so they completed the scene and included in the DVD in remembrance of him.
Mumble features a faded dark spot directly under his neck in the shape of a bow tie. This was added to make Mumble's appearance more like a white tuxedo. This is both to emphasize the Fred Astaire resemblance and is also a play on "penguin suit", a slang term for a black tuxedo.
When Gloria and Mumble are tumbling around on the ice after emerging from the water, they briefly slide into a human mating position (facing each other, lying down) and then slide into a penguin mating position (with Gloria on her belly and Mumble behind her).
The translation of Raul's Spanish speaking part of "Boogie Wonderland" is: "I am Raul, the coolest penguin, Latino of course, 100% Spanish! My brothers! (Yeah), Later the girl who lights me on fire will call, The party- dance, dance little girl! My heart has dynamite! BOOM!, (Exactly!), You look so beautiful to me baby!"