Cast & Crew
Johnny Sanchez Iii
In Emperorland, thousands of emperor penguins are suffering from a shortage of fish to eat. Despite the lean times, they continue to embark upon their main mission in life: to find their mate by singing their individual "heartsong," which expresses their soul. One much-wooed female, Norma Jean, wanders alone until she meets Memphis, the only male whose song inspires her. They, like every other emperor couple, soon produce an egg, after which each father cradles his egg between his legs to incubate it over the long, brutally cold winter, while the mothers leave for the open sea to hunt for fish. Throughout the winter, the males huddle in a large mass, taking turns braving the outer rim and then moving inside the group for warmth. Directed by their venerated leader, Noah, they sing to make their task more palatable and invoke their spirit guides. Memphis, lovesick, envisions Norma Jean and sings passionately, causing him momentarily to lose hold of his egg, which rolls into the freezing snow. Horrified, he snatches it back up and returns to the group. When summer finally returns, the eggs begin to hatch. Memphis has almost given up hope for his still, silent egg when it cracks and two feet emerge. The baby, christened "Mumble" by another new baby, Gloria, soon breaks free of his shell and tap-dances with happiness, causing the other penguins and his father to squirm in discomfort. Soon, the females return, and although Memphis is embarrassed by Mumble's constantly shuffling feet, Norma Jean adores her son without reserve. All of the children attend school led by Miss Viola, who teaches them that without their heartsongs, they cannot be truly penguin. Mumble is entranced with Gloria, who already evidences a lovely singing voice, but when he is called on, his singing is a painful screech. Viola meets with Norma Jean and Memphis, who lies that Mumble's incubation was entirely normal, and Mumble is brought to the special education teacher, Mrs. Astrakhan. She counsels him to summon up his deepest emotions, but when Mumble eagerly tries, his feet unwittingly start tapping, and upon hearing his voice later, Mrs. Astrakhan weeps with despair. Norma Jean pronounces Mumble's dancing cute, but Memphis takes his cues from the other penguins and declares that "it ain't penguin." Over the weeks, Mumble finds isolated areas to dance unobserved, and one day, is set upon by four predatory skua birds. As their boss pins him down, Mumble, hoping to "appeal to his better nature," inquires about the identification tag on his ankle, prompting the skua to wax eloquently on the "aliens," actually humans, who abducted him. When the bird then returns to the task at hand, Mumble flees, eluding his captors by hiding in an ice crevice. Each day at school, he stands silently at the back of the class, and when their education is finished, Noah does not allow Mumble to graduate. Regardless, Norma Jean urges her son to join his peers in their celebration, and he follows them out to their party by the sea. Spotting a few fish nearby, the penguins compete to grab one, and when Mumble succeeds, he gives it to Gloria. When she refuses it, however, a bird snatches the fish from Mumble's mouth, lifting him into the sky and dropping him to the ground with half of the fish intact in his mouth. Gloria, embarrassed, thanks him. That night, Gloria leads the adolescents in a rousing song, but when Mumble sings along, the whole pack complains and demands that he leave. He sleeps alone on an ice floe, waking when a monstrous leopard seal attacks. After a harrowing chase, Mumble escapes by jumping onto the shore, and finds there five Adelie penguins, a smaller, beach-dwelling species. The rambunctious males, whom Mumble dubs the "Amigos," join Mumble in taunting the seal, then admire Mumble's masterly footwork. They invite him back to their colony, where tens of thousands of Adelie males are building nests of pebbles to attract a mate. The Amigos explain that their superior charisma lures the ladies even without a nest, and to prove their claim, they dance Mumble's steps for three females, who respond favorably. Together, the new friends slide on their bellies down steep mountainsides, impressing one another with their daring and finesse. At the tip of the mountain, however, their shenanigans start a mini-avalanche, revealing a huge tractor. Mumble watches with horrified fascination as it sinks into the sea, then calls to the Amigos to help him discern its mysteries. Although the carefree Adelies care little about the tractor, they bring him to their guru, a womanizing charlatan Rockhopper penguin named Lovelace. Lovelace wears a plastic ring from a six-pack that wedged around his neck while swimming one day, which he claims is a "sacred talisman" that allows him to confer with the spirits. After waiting with other worshipful penguins, Mumble asks the mystic if the spirits resemble the aliens of which the boss skua spoke, prompting Lovelace to declare his question-answering over. The Adelies ask Mumble about his soul mate, and when they learn that he cannot sing, hatch a plan to hide behind him while he lip-synchs. When Mumble tries to impress Gloria in this way, however, she quickly uncovers the ruse and chastises him. In desperation, Mumble launches into his most fervent dancing, and Gloria, who has been searching in vain for a mate to complement her forlorn heartsong, is swept away by the beat. Suddenly, her song's true nature is revealed: a jubilant disco celebration. The other young penguins joyfully echo Mumble's dance steps, earning the censure of the elders. Noah demands that they stop, cautioning the colony that the food shortage has been caused by just such "pagan" influences, and that only through strict adherence to rules will the fish return. Although Mumble tries to educate his clan about the "aliens," the true cause of the shortage, they scoff at him. Mumble, unwilling to deny his true self, refuses to stop dancing, and is banished. Knowing the only way back to his family is by discovering the truth about the aliens, Mumble resolves to find them, and visits Lovelace to ask for advice. He and the Amigos find the guru laboring for breath, as the plastic ring has tightened around his neck. Realizing that the ring was not a gift from the gods, Mumble presses Lovelace to lead him to where he found it. To that end, the seven penguins set out across the frozen tundra, and when Gloria follows, determined to be with her true love, Mumble deliberately insults her so she will turn back and not be condemned to life as an outcast. He is heartbroken, but soon must focus on the trek's arduousness. Mumble helps the ailing Lovelace over a mountain, which descends to a herd of huge elephant seals. The vegetarian creatures warn the group that miles away lay the humans, whom they deem the "annihilators." Unafraid, Mumble presses on, sure he can appeal to the humans' better natures. The winds turn torrential, and the penguins struggle forward. Finally, they come upon an abandoned human fishery and spot several more plastic rings floating by the shore. Killer whales attack, catching Lovelace by the ring and tossing him into the air. The motion, however, manages to free him from the ring, and all seven penguins escape to an ice floe, only to see it split apart by a mammoth fishing ship. The penguins scramble to safety, and the sight of more ships inspires Mumble to dive headlong into the sea to confront them directly. Watched with admiration by the others, he braves the dangerous tides, but is borne out to sea and, eventually, washed up ashore in a city. There, he is caught and transported to a zoo, where penguins stand, stunned and despondent, in a glass case with a false "Arctic" backdrop. For days, Mumble tries to talk to the human spectators, but soon loses his voice, and three months later has nearly lost his mind. One day, his stupor is interrupted by a child knocking on the glass rhythmically. In response, Mumble shuffles a few steps, and soon the humans react with excited hysteria. Months later, Mumble returns to Emperorland, an electronic tracking device embedded in his back, and informs the penguins that the humans are causing the food shortage, but dancing charms them. When Noah orders the penguins to sing out against Mumble, the younger set, spurred on by Gloria, instead begin to follow his dance steps. Norma Jean and the Amigos see the commotion and welcome Mumble home, but reveal that Memphis, wracked with guilt for abandoning his son, has lost his heartsong. Mumble appeals to his father to dance, and soon, Memphis revives. Just then, two helicopters land on a rise nearby and humans emerge. Mumble leads his frightened brethren in a line dance, and soon, the delighted humans join in. Within days, footage of the miraculous birds has dispersed throughout the human world, and committees have formed to protect their environment. As the fish begin to replenish, Emperorland is alive with dancing penguins, chief among them Mumble and his bride, Gloria.
Johnny Sanchez Iii
E. G. Daily
Dee Bradley Baker
Wayne Scott Kermond
Yann Le Berre
T. J. Beacom
A. J. Buckley
Ricky D'shon Cox
Scott E. Collins
Arif S. Kinchen
Joanne Ah Kuoi
David Drury Allen
Herbie Azor "fingerprints"
George Banks Jr.
Edie Lehman Boddicker
Edie Lehman Boddicker
Kyoung Kate Choi
Kelli Q. Conley
Pavel De Jesus
Andre De Souza
Tom Del Campo
Thierry Di Donna
Mathieu Di Muro
Thai Son Doan
Best Animated Feature Film
Best Animated Feature Film
The film's credits state that it was dedicated to Nick Enright, Michael Jonson, Robby McNeilly Green and Steve Irwin. Many individuals are thanked throughout the closing credits, including the following: "Maxwells (Sydney) for the Nikon camera equipment, Optech Inc. (Toronto) for the Ilris-3D laser scanners; Special thanks to Lou Sanson and the many Antarctica New Zealand personnel who assisted the K310 project in Christchurch & at Scott Base." After the list of Animal Logic studio credits is the written statement "In memory of Ivan Bastianich 1981-2005." Voice-over narration is provided by Robin Williams throughout the film as "Lovelace," but the character does not appear until about halfway through the picture, when the voice-over states that the audience has heard the voice and now will meet the character. "Norma Jean" is voiced by Nicole Kidman in a vocal approximation of Marilyn Monroe (whose real name was Norma Jean), while "Memphis," voiced by Hugh Jackman, sounds like Elvis Presley and Roger Rose, as the leopard seal, imitates Arnold Schwarzenegger. Humans do not appear in the film until near the end, when the live-action human characters interact with the animated animals.
Happy Feet faithfully illustrates the life of the emperor penguins, which live on the ice in Antarctica. Each has a distinctive call that distinguishes it from the rest of its flock. They breed during winter, after which the female leaves for the open sea and the male balances the egg on his feet and stands for over two months, protecting it. Over-fishing and global warming have endangered most of the penguin species, with the emperor penguin colonies declining by about fifty percent over the past fifty years, as stated in modern sources. Emperor penguins were featured in a BBC/National Geographic documentary series entitled Life in the Freezer. As noted in press materials, the series, which ran from 18 November-December 23, 1993, was an inspiration for Happy Feet.
As reported in a November 2006 Hollywood Reporter article on the making of the film, Australian producer-director-writer George Miller conceived of Happy Feet in 2001 and showed an early version of the screenplay to Warner Bros. president Alan Horn, who immediately offered to fund it. At that time, the film was planned as a mix of live-action and animation, but Miller later became enamored of the animated motion-capture process after visiting Weta Digital during production of the 2001 release The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (see below). In addition, the film was not originally conceived of as a musical, but Miller decided on the musical genre after discovering that penguins attracted mates via personal songs.
The Hollywood Reporter article also noted that Miller's production company, Kennedy Miller Productions, then painstakingly converted the Animal Logic special effects company into a fully functional animation studio, a two-year process. Miller stated in a November 2006 interview in Los Angeles City Beat that the production spanned almost four years, beginning with the two years spent building the studio and assembling the music, and the bulk of the animators starting work in the third year of production. In April 2003, Variety reported that Warner Bros. and Village Roadshows Pictures were teaming to produce Happy Feet, with some crew members to be hired from Weta's ranks.
Miller strove for Happy Feet to achieve a new height of animation that he dubbed photo-realism, a term more commonly applied to paintings so highly realistic that they appear to be photographs. This involved the computerization of the Antarctic terrain as well as the anthropomorphizing of dancing penguins, attained through a process called motion capture. A November 13, 2006 Los Angeles Times article reported that Miller originally planned to photograph live penguins in Antarctica and use the footage to animate the background penguins. However, Miller decided that the penguins were too unpredictable and the environment too delicate to disturb. Instead, crew members embarked on two research expeditions to the area, as explained in studio press materials and a November 15, 2006 Los Angeles Times article, using digital gear to photograph the Antarctic sea, tundra, wildlife, skyline and light. One crew traveled by ship to see the icebergs while the other flew to the "deep ice" of the Ross Sea, and the images they captured were converted to data to map the textures, light and landscapes of the Antarctic in painstaking detail. The expeditions yielded over 80,000 images, used as reference materials for matte paintings and computer-generated imagery (CGI).
The details of the state-of-the-art motion capture process were laid out in a November 12, 2006 article in Los Angeles Times: Choreographer Kelley Abbey created a "penguin school" for sixteen dancers, including renowned tap dancer Savion Glover. The dancers were taught to approximate the range of a penguin, with short legs and flippers, and fused dance styles from Zulu to Irish to Navajo to hip-hop. Antarctic bird expert Gary Miller gave further lessons to the performers in how to walk and gesture like penguins, press notes relate.
The motion capture process involved a performer donning a bodysuit with dozens of reflective sensors that then translated movement into light, which was captured on sixty cameras. The cameras then sent the data to a character model in a computer, allowing the animated character to be seen on a screen moving exactly like the performer. Glover's tap-dancing was recorded with microphones placed under the floors, as noted in the November 2006 Hollywood Reporter article. The Los Angeles Times article added that "Mumble" was ultimately made up of Glover's dance moves, Elijah Wood's dialogue and performer Matt Lee's facial expressions and gestures, as well as the work of dozens of technical artists and animators.
Press notes stated that only a small number of human dancers were used to create the image of tens of thousands of penguins dancing. Abbey divided the dance floor into approximately fifty grids, each the size of a tennis court, and choreographed dancers in one grid at a time. Onscreen, the grids were combined to form one mass of penguins. A system dubbed "Horde" by Animal Logic technicians then took the information from each grid and randomized the movement within, creating the illusion that each penguin was dancing similar steps but with individualized style.
In the November 2006 Hollywood Reporter article, Miller asserted that he studied Walt Disney animated pictures with darker tones, such as Dumbo (1941, ) and Pinocchio (1940, see below), to create Happy Feet's blend of drama and action. The film's environmental themes were not a large element of the original screenplay, reported a November 2006 WSJ article, but Miller, concerned about the effects of global warming on his native Australia, added more "green" content. The article noted that the zoo scenes derived from a trip Miller took to the zoo with his children years earlier.
The film features a style of music referred to as "mash-ups," in which two or more songs are combined, often in a completely new style. The technique, stemming from the use of samples popularized in hip-hop music, was used extensively in the 2001 release Moulin Rouge! (see below). Composer John Powell stated in a December 2006 interview in Animation Magazine that the story was originally planned to include many more mash-ups to explain the exposition, but after the success of the 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary March of the Penguins, it was deemed unnecessary to educate the public as assiduously about emperor penguin behavior. Press materials reported that, when approached for the rights to his song "Kiss," Prince offered a new song, "The Song of the Heart," for the closing credits. The film's vocal stars sang their own songs. Brittany Murphy, who provided the voice of "Gloria," had trained as a singer before becoming an actress but had never before sung onscreen. The soundtrack was released on Warner Sunset/Atlantic Records on 31 October 2006.
Although a June 3, 2003 Daily Variety news item stated that Robin Williams would play four roles, including "Noah the Elder" and an elephant seal, he played only two roles, "Ramone" and Lovelace, in the final film. Australian wildlife conservationist and television presenter Steve Irwin, popularly known as "The Crocodile Hunter," voiced his role as elephant seal "Trev" one month before his death, on September 4, 2006, of a stingray barb. Press materials explained that the dialogue for the "Amigos" was recorded in open-microphone group sessions, with copious improvisation. Some sources reported the film's final budget at nearly $100 million.
The film was released simultaneously in standard and IMAX 3D versions on November 17, 2006. A March 2006 Daily Variety article explained that IMAX would use its newly patented DMR technology, which allowed a film shot on 35mm to be converted to 3D and shown on IMAX screens. Many reviewers compared the film to March of the Penguins, which detailed the life of the emperor penguins and also was released by Warner Bros. A November 2006 Hollywood Reporter article stated that Miller, who, as noted above, first conceived of Happy Feet in 2001, considered the documentary's success a good indication of the appeal of the subject matter.
Happy Feet proved a box-office hit, to the surprise of many industry analysts who had predicted middling profits. Reviews were universally laudatory, with the Variety critic calling it "one of the very best directed animated films on record." Its conservationist message, however, incurred the ire of some conservative journalists, including CNN's Glenn Beck, who called the film "propaganda" aimed at children to promote a "far-left" agenda. In addition to being named one of AFI's Movies of the Year, the picture received the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and was nominated for Golden Globes for Best Animated Film and Best Original Song-Motion Picture ("The Song of the Heart" by Prince). The picture also was nominated for Best Animated Feature by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.
Winner of the 2006 award for Best Animated Feature by the Toronto Film Critics Association (TFCA).
Winner of the 2006 award for Best Animated Feature by the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA).
Winner of the 2006 award for Best Animated Feature Film by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA).
Winner of the 2006 award for Best Animated Film by the New York Film Critics Circle (NYFCC).
Winner of the 2006 award for Best Animation of the Year by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA).
Released in United States Fall November 17, 2006
Released in United States on Video March 27, 2007
Released in United States December 2006
Shown at Dubai International Film Festival (Cinema for Children) December 10-17, 2006.
Midway Games and Warner Bros. Interactive pacted to release a video game based on the movie.
Released in United States Fall November 17, 2006
Released in United States on Video March 27, 2007
Released in United States December 2006 (Shown at Dubai International Film Festival (Cinema for Children) December 10-17, 2006.)
Voted one of the 10 best films of 2006 by the American Film Institute (AFI).