Saturday, June 5, 2010

Happy Feet

Happy Feet is a 2006 computer-animated comedy-drama film with music, 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 America on November 17, 2006. It is the first animated feature film produced by Kennedy Miller in association with visual effects/design company Animal Logic.

Though primarily an animated film, Happy Feet does incorporate 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 of a budget to release Happy Feet in IMAX digital 3D. Happy Feet won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and was nominated for the Annie Award for Best Animated Feature.

The film was dedicated in memory of Nick Enright, Michael Jonson, Robby McNeilly Green, and Steve Irwin.

Every penguin sings a unique song called a "heartsong" to attract a mate. If the female likes the male and his song, and if it completes the female's song, the two penguins mate. A penguin named Norma Jean sings the song "Kiss", whereupon a male penguin named Memphis sings "Heartbreak Hotel". Norma Jean chooses him as her mate. They couple and Norma Jean lays an egg. The egg is left with Memphis while Norma Jean leaves with the other females to fish. While the males struggle through the harsh winter, Memphis drops the egg, briefly exposing it to the freezing Antarctic temperatures. The resulting chick - the film's protagonist, Mumble (voiced by Elizabeth Daily) - has blue eyes, ever-lasting down feathers, and a terrible singing voice. However, Mumble has a talent that no other penguin has ever seen before: tap dancing. As a result, Mumble is ostracized, with only his mother and his best friend Gloria to turn to. One day Mumble wanders into a secluded area, where he is free to dance. Mumble is interrupted when Boss Skua and his posse Dino, Frankie, and Vinnie attempt to eat him. Mumble stalls by asking the leader of the pack about a yellow band that is attached to his right ankle. The Boss Skua tells Mumble that he had been abducted by "aliens". Mumble narrowly escapes the hungry birds by falling into a crevice.

Mumble grows into an adult (voiced by Elijah Wood), still half-covered in fluffy down. Mumble's class graduates, and although he has not graduated, he joins them on their first trip into the ocean. His class ends their day by partying on an iceberg. Mumble constantly interrupts their singing and is forced to enjoy the party on a small iceberg. Mumble dozes off and wakes to find himself alone. A leopard seal chases him off the iceberg, and the penguin finds himself far from his home. He finds some Adelie Penguins, small in stature, but fiercely loyal to those they call friends. He befriends a small group of bachelors who form a club called "the Amigos": the leader Ramon, the brothers Raul and Nestor, and twin brothers Rinaldo and Lombardo. The Amigos quickly embrace Mumble's dance moves and assimilate him into their misfit group. Mumble's joy is cut short when he accidentally starts an avalanche and causes a hidden human excavator to tumble out from a glacier. Driven by curiosity, he sets out to find the "aliens" responsible for the machine. Mumble has a lot of questions, and the group suggests that he ask Lovelace a Rockhopper or Macaroni Crested Penguin who answers questions in exchange for stones and is known as the guru,as well as being the leader of the Adelie penguins. Big birds had earlier told Mumble that Lovelace had been captured and that's why is had yellow braces on his foot. Lovelace has six-pack plastic rings entangled around his neck which he uses them to project his guru image. When asked if the rings were from the aliens, Lovelace denies that aliens exists and that the plastic rings were bestowed upon him by mystic beings.

In Mumble's old home, it is mating season, and Gloria (voiced by Brittany Murphy) is the center of attention. Although she is surrounded by a large horde of suitors, none of their heartsongs interest her. Ramon tries to help Mumble by singing a Spanish version of "My Way". Gloria isn't fooled, however, for she knows Mumble can't sing. She notices Ramon behind Mumble and shoves him away to reveal the little penguin. Gloria becomes angry and turns her back on Mumble. As Mumble has no heartsong, Gloria continues towards the other males visibly distraught. As a last resort, Mumble tries to persuade her to sing along to his tapping rhythm. Because of her affection for him, she complies. As Mumble's beat speeds up, Gloria finds the chorus to her heartsong, and realizes it is "Boogie Wonderland". Overcome with happiness that they can now be mates, the pair begin dancing, along with the other penguins.

Noah the elder sees their lack of fish as punishment from the Great 'Guin for Mumble's dancing. Mumble tries to explain about the mysterious "aliens", and that they are the cause of the scarceness of fish, but only his mother and Gloria believe him. Noah exiles Mumble from the colony. Mumble vows that he will find the real cause of the famine. Mumble and the Amigos return to Lovelace only to find him being choked by the plastic rings. Lovelace confesses that he got stuck in the rings while swimming near the forbidden shores. He reveals that the forbidden shores are located past the land of elephant seals and beyond the blizzard country. Mumble, the Amigos and Lovelace start their journey. Gloria tries to come, but Mumble, fearing for her safety, drives her off by insulting her singing talents. They travel across vast territories till they reach the shore.

Mumble sees a boat and swims after it, leaving his friends behind. He ends up in a penguin exhibit at a marine park named Marine World. He tries to communicate with the "aliens" that surround him. When his pleas fail, Mumble nearly succumbs to madness after three months of confinement. Mumble starts dancing, and soon a large crowd gathers around the exhibit. He is released back into the wild, now with more adult feathers and a tracking device strapped to his back. He leads the humans to his native colony. The other penguins are skeptical at first, but when Gloria notices the tracking device, they realize that the “aliens” exist. Now convinced, the penguins (along with the once-stubborn elders) dance alongside Mumble in hopes of getting the humans' attention.

A research team arrives and film the penguins dancing. They bring this footage back to the human world, and a worldwide debate ensues. The world governments realize they are overfishing the Antarctic waters, and conclude that the penguins are trying to communicate that to them. Antarctic fishing is banned, and the fish population recovers. At this, the Emperor Penguins and the Amigos dance and celebrate their triumph. A dancing baby penguin seen at the end is implied to be the child of Mumble and Gloria.

In the credits, the characters reunite to dance for the final number, "The Song of the Heart."

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 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 was partially inspired by earlier documentaries such as the BBC's Life in the Freezer.

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.

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.

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.

Home media release
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.

Video games
A video game based on the film was developed by A2M and published by Midway Games. It has the same main cast as the film. It was released for the PC, PlayStation 2, GameCube, GBA, NDS, and Wii.
Artificial Life, Inc. has also developed a Happy Feet mobile game for the Japan market.

Box office

The film opened at number one in the United States on its first weekend of release (November 17-November 19) grossing $41.6 million and beating Casino Royale for the top spot.Critical reviews

Happy Feet has received better than average reviews from film critics, and received a 74% "fresh" approval in the Rotten Tomatoes movie review aggregate site, with an 82% percent from the Top Critics.

The film has also garnered, since its release, quite a bit of analysis and dissection from various places. Film critic Yar Habnegnal has written an essay, published in Forum on Contemporary Art and Society, that examines the themes of encroachment presented throughout the film, as well as various other subtexts and themes, such as religious hierarchy and interracial tensions.

Happy Feet 2 is currently in production at Dr. D Studios. The estimated release date is November 18, 2011. Wood and Williams will reprise their roles for the sequel. But Murphy will not be able to reprise her role, due to her death. Matt Damon and Brad Pitt have reportedly signed on to provide voice work for the film also.
Environmental message

As things progress there is increasing emphasis on environmental problems in the Antarctic.

The film's denouement shows a group of researchers taking video of the colony of dancing emperor penguins, and the footage is broadcast globally. After many heated arguments this publicity generates considerable pressure to stop commercial overfishing of the Antarctic.

According to the director, George Miller, the environmental message was not a major part of the original script, but "In Australia, we're very, very aware of the ozone hole," he said, "and Antarctica is literally the canary in the coal mine for this stuff. So it sort of had to go in that direction." This influence led to a film with a more environmental tone. Miller said, "You can't tell a story about Antarctica and the penguins without giving that dimension." It remained number one for the Thanksgiving weekend, making $51.6 million over the five-day period. In total, the film was the top grosser for three weeks, a 2006 box office feat matched only by Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. As of June 8, 2008, Happy Feet has grossed $198.0 million in the U.S. and $186.3 million overseas, making about $384.3 million dollars worldwide. Happy Feet was the third highest grossing animated film in the U.S. , behind Cars and Ice Age: The Meltdown. Happy Feet also being the third highest grossing animated film worldwide, behind Ice Age: The Meltdown and Cars. The film has been released in about 35 international territories at the close of 2006.

The production budget was $100 million