The animated musical-comedy "Happy Feet" gets in trouble when it stops being cutesy and tries to take a political stand.
In fact, the whole thing screeches to a halt in the final 30 or so minutes, when filmmaker George Miller (the "Mad Max" and "Babe" movies) throws in a lengthy, environmentally conscious screed that seems seriously out of step with the rest of the mostly lighthearted material.
So, despite some first-rate digital animation, fun musical numbers and stellar voice talent, this film hardly compares to the Oscar-winning documentary "March of the Penguins," which expressed many of the same ideas without relentlessly beating the audience over the head.
The title of the film refers to Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood), an emperor penguin unable to find his "heart song," which will help attract a mate. Instead, he nervously taps his feet and toes in dance rhythms.
His parents (Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman) are hoping this is just a phase he'll grow out of and that eventually his off-tune squeaking will turn musical. Instead, Mumble is eventually shunned by his fellow penguins and forced to seek the company of other Antarctic animals.
This is when the film goes seriously off track. Rather than following logical story progression, Miller tries to address a variety of environmental issues. (A more promising subplot has Mumble receiving love advice from another species of penguin with Robin Williams as one of these would-be Cyranos.)
And the live-action sequences toward the end, which feature human actors and extras, are a bit creepy and unnecessary. All they do is stress the "unreality" of the animation.
Still, the animation is top-notch, and it's nice to hear the multitalented Jackman singing he's doing his best Elvis Presley impression here. Even Williams is a hoot for the most part (voicing a couple of different characters and narrating).
"Happy Feet" is rated PG for scenes of animal violence (sea-lion and killer-whale attacks), some mildly suggestive humor and dialogue, as well as some creative religiously based profanity. Running time: 97 minutes.