Penguins Back on Top with 'Happy Feet'

Penguins were the subject of last year's Academy Award-winning documentary March of the Penguins. The flightless birds have hit theaters once again, this time in the animated film Happy Feet. This time, the penguins aren't trekking to their ancestral breeding grounds, but singing and dancing their way to the top spot at theaters.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

If March of the Penguins whetted your appetite for more of those little tuxedoed guys from the frozen South, you probably already know about the new animated film Happy Feet. Bob Mondello says it's positively teeming with penguins, and this time they're not marching; they're singing and tap-dancing.

BOB MONDELLO: In a world were meeting the penguin of your dreams requires that you croon a tune all your own, little Mumble is at a disadvantage. Other Emperor penguins seem to have no trouble finding their inner song, but his attempts but his attempts sound like fingernails on a blackboard. What he can do though, from the second hid feet touched the ice, is dance.

(Soundbite of movie "Happy Feet")

Mr. ROBIN WILLIAMS (Actor): (As character) What do you make of that?

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) A little wobbly in the knees huh?

Mr. WILLIAMS: I don't know. What you doing here, boy?

Unidentified Child (Actor): (As Mumble) I'm happy, pop.

Mr. WILLIAMS: What you doing with your feet?

Unidentified Child: They're happy too.

Unidentified Man #1: I wouldn't do that around folks, son.

Unidentified Child: Why not?

Unidentified Man #1: Well, it just ain't penguin, okay?

Unidentified Child: Okay.

MONDELLO: Conformity being much prized in the emperor penguin community, Mumble becomes a bit of an outcast as he grows up among his crooning cousins. Then as a teenager he meets some rockhopper penguins who've hopped from Argentina, judging from their accents, and who take him under their wing, so to speak.

(Soundbite of movie "Happy Feet")

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (As character) All you gotta do is sing.

Mr. ELIJAH WOOD: (As Mumble) That's the problem. I can't.

Unidentified Man #2: You a bird, ain't you?

Mr. WOOD: All birds can sing.

Unidentified Man #2: I shall sing like the birdies do, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet.

Mr. WOOD: All right (Singing) (unintelligible)

Unidentified Man #2: What's he doing?

Mr. WOOD: (Singing) (unintelligible)

Unidentified Man #3 (Actor): (As character) I think he's singing.

Unidentified Man #2: He not singing. That's not singing.

(Soundbite of screaming)

Mr. WILLIAMS: (As character) Yeah, I heard an animal once do that, but then they rolled him over. He was dead.

Mr. WOOD: Yeah.

MONDELLO: Happy Feet is directed by George Miller, who started out making Mel Gibson's Mad Max movies and who later made the kid flick Babe. You could say he's eased into computer animation from the real world, which may be why this movie is so visually breathtaking. Camera crews spent two years finding towering glaciers and craggy Antarctic mountains that they could mesh with their amazingly lifelike animated penguins using a technique called motion capture, the one used to make that Christmas movie The Polar Express. There it made the world look like a storybook. Here it places a storybook fable in a persuasively real world, just one populated by penguins who can tap dance like Savion Glover.

(Soundbite of movie "Happy Feet")

MONDELLO: And who sound like Elijah Wood, Robin Williams and a lot of terrific singers.

(Soundbite of movie "Happy Feet")

MONDELLO: The camera moves far more than it does in most animated films, swooping around thousands of Mumble's penguin buddies as they plunge off cliffs and get chased by predators, then backing up until the whole penguin tribe is just a little speck on the horizon. Things are so lifelike, in fact, that when our hero's grown up, the story takes a lifelike turn, from the just be your kooky little self plotline to one about aliens who are over-fishing, tossing away dangerous plastic and even putting penguins in zoos. This'll be a bit much for the tots in the audience and may cause some eye-rolling among adults too, but happily for Happy Feet, the serious stuff is just as seriously pretty as the rest of a film that is tuneful and funny and sometimes both.

I'm Bob Mondello.

(Soundbite of movie "Happy Feet")

Unidentified Man #4 (Actor): (As character) What's wrong with you?

Unidentified Woman (Actor): (As character) Mumble?

Mr. WOOD: Yeah.

Unidentified Woman: It's better you just...

Mr. WOOD: Yeah, I know.

Unidentified Woman: ...you listen. You know?

Mr. WOOD: Yeah. Sorry.

Unidentified Woman: Okay.

Mr. WOOD: Sorry.

Unidentified Woman: Chill.

Mr. WOOD: You're great. That was great.

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