November 14, 2006
Sandy George, Film writer
OUTSTANDING reviews for the Australian animated film Happy Feet, after successful previews in the US this weekend, suggest it may become one of Australia's biggest movie hits.
The US trade magazine Variety called the penguin musical "one of the very best directed animated films on record" and predicted public reaction would be "jaw-dropping amazement" when the movie is released on Friday.
"There is no mistaking Happy Feet as anything but the work of a real filmmaker, in terms of composition, camera movement and editing," says Variety reviewer Todd McCarthy.
The Hollywood Reporter was just as admiring.
"The many musical numbers are brilliantly choreographed and orchestrated through some of the best motion capture ever employed in a cartoon," writes reviewer Kirk Honeycutt.
In Europe, Screen International praised the film's sense of spectacle, its environmental message and cute penguins, but had some reservations about the blandness of the young outcast at the heart of the story.
The film is director George Miller's first animation in a 25-year career that started with Mad Max.
The lead character is an emperor penguin in Antarctica who is very different from his fellow penguins and in danger of not finding a mate. The character is voiced by Elijah Wood, his penguin parents by Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman, and his one friend by Brittany Murphy.
Happy Feet will open in Australia on Boxing Day – the date that was reserved for the Lord of the Rings trilogy for three years running.
Phil Oneile, from Australian distributor Roadshow, said while the US reaction was great news, they already had high expectations of the film.
Industry commentators expect the movie could make $25 million in ticket sales in Australia, which would place it among the top five local earners.
It was financed by a long-standing production joint venture between US studio Warner Bros and Australian entertainment conglomerate Village Roadshow.
Miller had the idea for the film – though not as a musical – about a decade ago while watching a documentary about penguins, Life in the Freezer.
The French documentary March of the Penguins, which did well in cinemas last year, is expected to add to the interest in Happy Feet.