A while back, Emperor penguins Memphis (voiced by Hugh Jackman) and Norma Jean (Nicole Kidman) met among their thousands of fellow birds and made beautiful music together: literally, as it's a little known fact that penguins have a "heart song" which they trill and croon to each other. Nature took its course, and while the females went out to catch fish, the males stayed behind and sat on the eggs to keep them warm, but when Memphis was looking after his offpspring, he accidentally lost his grip on the egg and it fell. He didn't tell Norma Jean, but when their chick was hatched, it was quickly clear that he was no ordinary penguin...
He wasn't a fifty foot tall penguin or anything like that, but Happy Feet is so wacky you cannot guarantee that it didn't cross director George Miller's mind when he was making it. A cartoon with a serious message, this started out like a misfit tale of which there are plenty in this field, so you can pretty much tell that Mumble (Elijah Wood), as the chick is named, will undergo some soul searching as he finds his place in the world and so forth, but many viewers were caught off guard by what emerged as green propaganda about how we should all be looking after the environment, a laudable intention but not one which everyone was happy to be fed in this context.
And yet it's not as if there is no plot foreshadowing, starting with the instance baby Mumble encounters a bunch of predators considering eating him. He has discovered that to make up for the fact that he cannot sing, therefore has no heart song, he can tap dance, so tries to impress the carnivorous birds with that, but to no avail. Nevertheless, although he escapes this is his first inkling that there may be others in this world: humans, or aliens as the lead predator with the ring around his leg calls them. But wait a minute: Mumble can tap dance? In a development that could only be pulled off in animation, that is indeed the case, and apparently the inspiration for this was the fact that Fred Astaire looks a bit like a penguin in his white tie and tails.
Either that or it was Dick Van Dyke dancing with the waterfowl waiters in Mary Poppins, or it could have been both. Anyway, whatever the reason, Mumble is shunned by his community as they believe his hoofing is the mystical cause of their fish shortage. Even his dad thinks this is the case, and poor Mumble has to leave them all behind, including his lady love Gloria (Brittany Murphy) who naturally accepts him for who he is, and embark on a journey to disprove all this superstition and religious nonsense the elders have filled their followers' heads with. Luckily, he's not alone as he is accompanied by some small friends he has become acquainted with who truly enjoy his tap dancing.
Two of them are voiced by Robin Williams in two different accents, and one, Lovelace, was considered a holy man because of his collar adornment, which we can recognise as a six pack of beer holder stuck around his neck. Again with the green hints as to where this is all headed, as the collar is slowly strangling the Rockhopper and Mumble decides they must take him to the "aliens" for a cure. As Mumble's world grows ever larger, we are supposed to recognise that we are intruding on the penguins by taking their food stocks, and if the filmmakers go about this is in an eccentric manner, you can tell their heart is in the right place. If you can't accept the way this develops, then it's not as if you were not given fair warning from the karaoke at the beginning to the finger wagging at the end, but Happy Feet was a big enough hit to ensure that its message would have got through to at least some of those watching. Music by John Powell.
The nineties saw him offer medical drama Lorenzo's Oil (he was once a medical student) plus curious sequel Babe: Pig in the City and in the 2000s he enjoyed the international success of the animated Happy Feet and its sequel. In 2015 he successfully revived his most celebrated franchise in Mad Max: Fury Road. Not to be confused with the other Australian director George Miller.