Is “Happy Feet” Anti-Dancing After All?

John Rockwell wrote an impassioned essay in the N.Y. Times about how the tap-dancing master Savion Glover is the unsung hero of Happy Feet. It was Glover who wore a motion-capture bodysuit and performed all the dancing that was then turned into the animated dancing of Mumble, the film’s penguin star. While conceding that the film’s director, George Miller, has openly acknowledged and praised Glover’s contribution, Rockwell bemoans the fact that Glover gets very, very low billing in the film’s credits while the actors who voiced the animated characters — Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, Nicole Kidman — get the star treatment. Glover, Rockwell writes, “seems to have gotten a ludicrously raw deal,” and he goes so far as to imply racism (Glover is black) when he writes that Glover’s omission from the main credits “seems especially worrisome when the dance being slighted is deeply rooted in the black American tradition.” This despite the fact that Glover himself seems to think that Rockwell doth protest too much: “My job was to be a stunt man. I love George Miller, and was happy to be a part of the film. I have no problem at all.”

I agree with Rockwell that it would have been nice if Glover had gotten more attention for his role (although he’s certainly getting it now). But what’s particularly ironic to me about this story is that Rockwell’s argument highlights the exact opposite of the movie’s plot. In Mumble’s penguin world, you need a great singing voice; poor Mumble can’t sing at all, but he’s a natural dancer. He’s ridiculed and ostracized for this outlaw skill, but ultimately teaches the whole band of singing penguins to dance, and all’s well in the end. Dance is king! And yet, back here in the real world, the dancer Savion Glover doesn’t get much credit while the actors with outlandish voices get all the attention.

FWIW, I was surprised that the film’s environmental message was so prominent, and vigorous. I can envision an animated-documentary-mashup of Happy Feet and An Inconvenient Truth. It would have to be called The Happy Truth, I guess, or perhaps Inconvenient Feet.


pakidude

Maybe the Occam's Razor principle applies. Can it be as simple as the movie's producers wanting to use the best known celebrities to promote the movie? I have always thought the reason high profile actors are used for the voice talent in animated movies was more for their marketing and promotional muscle than the actual voice talent, otherwise you could probably get just as good talent much cheaper.

tonyskyday

Inconvenient Feet would be a good band name.

pawntorook4

occam's razor aint to bad either (for a band name)

chrisbryan

Are they making these movies too long? I'm not sure the age of Dubners children that watched the movie, but my 5 year old was not able to stay focused and watch the whole hour and forty minutes...and no it's not because she has A.D.D., it's because she's five! What is the intended age group for this movie if five year olds are not include? It really didnt seem like a movie for very old children, but I guess it's all part of the attempt to reach a broad audience with these silly animated movies.

GarethLewin

I make computer games, and I find the issue similar, programmers and artists will work for months, sometimes years, on a game, but if there is a celebrity voice actor that does a few days of work, they get the top billing.

snubgodtoh

"aint to bad either" aint too bad either for a band name.

It seems like I remember the white (caucasian) ball suit guy who played Golum getting alot of attention in the pre-release/making-of hype for LOTR. I think he may have been the voice talent too, however. It does seem that a virtuoso dancer would have more human capital invested in his profession than a voice over specialist, but in this case the voices have value in their familiarity. I would guess the majority of the adult audience of happy feet would be able to deduce Robin Williams is a voice without being told. I doubt the same would hold for the ball suit dancer.

mrupert

People think I'm crazy for saying so, and I really don't want to sound like an angry fundie (I'm not), but I saw some anti-Christian overtones in the movie. I thought they were very obvious. So far I haven't found very much agreement.

Whatever the case, and I could be wrong, I don't mean to call it out because of agitation, but I think it is noteworthy. Yes, I happen to be a Christian, and I'm altogether fairly used to anti-Christian commentary, just not in a movie for children.

FTM--Happy Feet: No So Happy

lady godiva

I went with a crowd of about 22 of my brothers/sisters and their multitute of kids (big family) as well as my own two little ones, who are six and three respectively. My almost-four year old just couldn't hold still, so I missed most of the environmental soapbox @ the end. Too bad b/c I am the resident environmentalist in my fam & may have been the only one to have actually liked that part.

As well, the humor of the penguin with the six-pack plastic thing around it's neck was pretty sexual in nature. I laughed, knowing my kids didn't understand it, but my siblings have a prude streak and 3 or 4 of them were not impressed.

Personally, I thought the show was great, with a great message (be yourself, follow your passions and you will succeed). However, it didn't hit most in my group the same way. They are all pretty republican and I am generally a democrat. I don't know if that made a difference, but there you go, for what it is worth....

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tolsor

Ironically isn't there an element of biased in the role that glover's character plays? He can't sing he's different so he's not worthy of the same attention, that does who sing get? Yet art immates life because glovers character offers something that benefits the whole

Paul Turnbull

I'd have hard time calling it racism as I doubt it would have mattered if he was black or white he still wouldn't have got billing. Hollywood is slow to change and it is not typical for people in motion capture to get credit on par with the voice talent.

Andy Serkis in Lord of the Rings is a an exception because Peter Jackson recognized the huge role Serkis played and was willing to buck the system. George Miller likely should have done the same for Savion Glover.

mrupert: I find it interesting that a movie about loving and accepting people despite their differences could be considered in anyway anti-Christian. To me it says a lot about how far some Christians have moved from the core messages of Christ.

buckymarauder

When I try to dance, I have inconvenient feet.

chrisbryan, it looks as though Happy Feet is considerably longer than some other kid flicks - if IMDB is to be trusted, movies like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Bambi all clocked in between 70 and 80 minutes. Even Aladdin, Ice Age, and Toy Story ran 75-81 minutes each. Happy Feet supposedly runs 109 minutes.

bkw

be yourself, follow your passions and you will succeed

Personally I'm not a big fan of that message. I guess it depends on what your definition of "succeed" is, I suppose.

mrupert

"mrupert: I find it interesting that a movie about loving and accepting people despite their differences could be considered in anyway anti-Christian. To me it says a lot about how far some Christians have moved from the core messages of Christ."

Not that message... Did you see my commentary on it at: http://fromthemorning.blogspot.com/2006/12/happy-feet.html

It the way the cross is used to symbolize evil and the way the cruel leaders of the penguins use "Christian" language.

Hey, I'm not saying that such stereotypes are always off-base, and I would agree with you that much of Christianity has strayed from the message. But this is just a stereotype, because much of it hasn't. Not all Christians are the loudmouths you see with the bullhorns and on TV asking for money. These are just the most visible...

ftm

pkimelma

I think it is clear why the dancer gets less/no billing: we see this in music and musicals and all. The backup dancers are not treated the same as the singers. This is because dancers are treated more as props (the exception being dance as the sole performance).
You may argue that the point of the movie is about dancing, but it is really just about it being OK to be different. Note that it is not about non-conformance but rather that he is born different (due to a mistake rather than genetics in this case). So it is treating dance as a kind of handicap! But, the point is that accepting difference in people is important and good. The other message is about superstition (the leaders are trying to pin the depletion of fish on the protagonist being different). How you view that as being anti-Christian is unclear. It is anti-dogma. It is true that some Christian televangelists have tried to blame Hurricanes and other natural disasters on gay people or Hollywood, but no clear thinking person of any faith believes that.

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TartanBill

Happy Feet was technically superb, but artistically a mess.

I never figured out why the emperor penguins that seemed to so highly value conformity all spoke with different accents and treasured the personal song. The plot such as it was lurched around until a final resolution that had a deus ex machina quality about it. The environmental message at the end made no sense whatsoever. Was the message that overfishing was bad? that fishing at all is bad? Beats me.

The messages, like the penguin's songs, all covers, nothing original, this movie was aimed at specific sensibilities. The rest of us just weren't invited to the party. This was nothing but Shrek with a message, Captain Planet with a laugh track. Happy feet didn't just require suspended belief, but suspended cognition. Good art shouldn't turn you off with the it, is should make you think about it.

If you want to see a truly first rate animated movie that addresses differences and tolerance without insulting your intelligence, watch The Incredibles.

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Kent

Stephen, it's not just anti-dancing. It's anti-penguins as well. I don't even think the penguins were paid to be in the movie.

pakidude

Maybe the Occam's Razor principle applies. Can it be as simple as the movie's producers wanting to use the best known celebrities to promote the movie? I have always thought the reason high profile actors are used for the voice talent in animated movies was more for their marketing and promotional muscle than the actual voice talent, otherwise you could probably get just as good talent much cheaper.

tonyskyday

Inconvenient Feet would be a good band name.

pawntorook4

occam's razor aint to bad either (for a band name)

chrisbryan

Are they making these movies too long? I'm not sure the age of Dubners children that watched the movie, but my 5 year old was not able to stay focused and watch the whole hour and forty minutes...and no it's not because she has A.D.D., it's because she's five! What is the intended age group for this movie if five year olds are not include? It really didnt seem like a movie for very old children, but I guess it's all part of the attempt to reach a broad audience with these silly animated movies.