The last non-Pixar film to win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, Happy Feet seduced audiences with its perky title and the story of Mumble the penguin, born to a tribe of great singers but whose only gift was for dancing (choreography provided by tap master Savion Glover). That sounds like your basic ugly-duckling fable, meant to cheer special-ed kids and their parents — a story similar to Babe, the heroic-pig saga produced by Happy Feet director George Miller. But Miller, the Australian physician and lecturer whose Mad Max trilogy imagined a postnuclear wasteland populated by feral biker gangs, and whose Babe: Pig in the City dropped its porcine star into urban depths, had darker dreams to relate.
As Mumble is separated from his tribe and wanders Antarctica with his own ragtag gang, he is buffeted by blizzards and threatened by rampaging “aliens” (the enemy is us) whose crimes against the climate are shrinking his world. (Happy Feet is film noir emotionally, film blanc visually.) Another penguin, Lovelace, is strangled by the six-pack ring carrier he wears as a “sacred talisman.” These political points made the film a favorite scourge of right-wing commentators. But moviegoers didn’t care. They took to an animated version of the basic Miller theme — the outsider who enters a community and becomes, in the director’s phrase, “an angel of change” — and danced out of any theater playing Happy Feet. A sequel is due in November.