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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.