Film Essay: Happy Feet

Disclaimer: This article contains spoilers

Happy feet is one of those films that is cemented in the way I view my childhood. I can remember vividly our family outing to Cineworld, the excitement rising inside of me as we entered Cineworld. The delicious smell of popcorn tantalising my 6 -year-old self, leading me, unfortunately for my parents, to beg and scream for food. I remember sitting comfortably in the chair- legs dangling in the air with a snack box in hand- waiting joyfully for the movie to start. From the opening heart song sequence with Memphis and Norma I was sold, and Happy Feet became my new obsession. As a 6-year-old I was obsessed with Happy Feet and as now a 19-year-old I appreciate it even more. Maybe it could seem a little bit embarrassing that on my 19th year on this Earth I still drop tears at an animated movie targeted at toddlers but there are so many hidden gems and themes in Happy feet that make it one of my favourite movies of all times. I am proud to say that I have watched the film twice this year already and will probably be watching it more in the future.

Hidden Gems and themes

The blame game in parenthood

At the start of the film even before Mumble hatches out of his egg, we witness Memphis (Mumble’s father) dropping Mumble’s egg during a snow blizzard. If you’ve ever watched a nature program (most recently BBC’s Dynasties series 1 episode 2) you would know that snow blizzards and the ‘winter’ in the arctic is very dangerous for adult penguins and extremely hazardous for infant penguins who can freeze to death. A frozen egg is the worst-case scenario as blood vessels to the infant penguin are inhibited killing the infant. Luckily Mumble survived the drop, but that event left us, the audience, anticipating what Mumble would be like or if he would even hatch in the first place. I am not a parent yet but I understand how much pressure all mothers put on themselves during pregnancy to make sure that nothing happens to their child and if the unfortunate happens some people do put the blame on themselves even though pregnancy is one the hardest and most dangerous things that can occur in a woman’s life.  Memphis ended up blaming himself for Mumbles ‘differences’ even though as we all know there was nothing really wrong with him (he just couldn’t sing and opted to express himself through the art of tap) however throughout the film you could see that guilt for Mumble not fitting in was consuming him (Memphis) especially because he was never honest amount what happened during Mumble’s infancy. I can’t but sympathise with Memphis who knew that he messed up and genuinely felt bad even though throughout the film he messes up even more for not standing up for Mumble and for not accepting him for being his tap-dancing self.


Parents accepting their children for who they are

As stated above it was hard for Memphis to accept Mumble for being different. In true Emperor penguin style all penguins in the Happy Feet universe need to have a heart song to be able to attract a mate however it is made known to us that Mumble does not really have a heart song. He is completely note-deaf, and his heart song comes out through his feet rather than his mouth. The penguin Elders are absolutely appalled by tap-dancing, life loving Mumble who fails to align with tradition and blame him for the lack of fish in the oceans. As with anything that doesn’t fit societies norms tends to be ridiculed or named as ‘barbaric’ activities. Naturally we would expect the parents of a child that is being outcasted by a society to defend their child no matter what; the pressures of fitting in with the ‘norm’ affects parents just as much as it affects children without them knowing. They would brand it as ‘sticking to tradition’ when it actually is them being scarred of the thoughts and opinions of the people around them. Peer pressure affects everyone not just people in their adolescence. Even more now in our social media driven society where comparisons occur more often. Norma, Mumbles mother, was thankfully always supportive of her son and accepting of his quirks and differences and luckily, although it took Memphis a long while for him to forgive himself for what happened during Mumble’s infancy and accept him for who he is. It took a while but although Memphis didn’t actively support Mumble it was clear that he loved him. However, complete love is accepting them for who they are, loving them ‘despite’ of differences. Love is not really love without that aspect; it would just be called ‘liking’. It’s almost impossible to like every aspect of someone and that is where love comes in. Love is acceptance.

Baby mumble with gloria

Feelings of isolation and ‘not fitting’ with your peers

Mumble has a hard time in school, mostly since he couldn’t sing meaning that he could not participate in most of the activities. This led Mumble to not graduating with his peers, who like the adults treated him like an outsider which probably, I would like to believe, cemented in Mumble’s own head that he is not ‘penguin’ enough to fit in. This aspect of the film, Mumble being treated as an outcast, always resonates with me every time I watch the movie. There is something very subtle in the way they make it known that the shunning from his peers gets to the ever-positive Mumble. The concert scene after graduating is one, as Mumble is told to not sing along as his voice is atrocious leading him to stay secluded from his peers as they enjoy the concert without him. Although Mumble wasn’t out right bullied – the feeling of neglect and the feeling of not being liked by those around him most have been huge because who he was just didn’t ‘align’ with the social code that they were living in. I believe that sense of loneliness, even though he was not alone, is something that a lot of people can relate to in one way or another.



How good friendships can build you up (finding your tribe)

Fortunately, due to a chance encounter, Mumble finds the best friends that he needed, the amigos that he didn’t ask for but was handed to him anyway. These friends accepted Mumble for who he was and praised him for his talents and gave him confidence that he probably never imagined himself having. Meeting the amigos is an amazing event not just for Mumble but for the audience as well reminding us that it is never too late to meet people who will accept you for you. The importance of friendship is also made clear by the relationship between Mumble and the amigos as they help him on his journey in figuring out why the amount of fish in the ocean is reducing. Friendships are a vital part of human life, as highly social creatures we rely on the affection and the acknowledgment of others a lot. I found it quite fascinating the during Channel 4’s Kathy Burke’s All Woman documentary (Season 1 episode 3), the anthropologists even suggested the fact that friendships are in fact the only needed human interaction. Even if you do not agree with that, we can all agree on the fact that having supportive people around always does the mind good.

Mumble and the amigos

The Overfishing issue

Now to the nitty gritty of the film. The main theme that is pumped quietly through the film before it is whacked right at our face at the end that is – Overfishing and its affects on marine life. Overfishing can be defined as the capture of fish at a high rate leading to an un-replenished ecosystem. There are many different causes of overfishing which really boils down to the management and control of our seas and the fishing industry. Other factors contributing which you have probably heard of is our ever-growing population and over-consumption of fish; however it gets a bit more complicated than that due to illegal fishing and the fact that a lot of fishing in our oceans are still not regulated properly. This issue doesn’t just affect the population of different fish species in the seas, but it also leaves the whole entire eco-system imbalanced causing havoc to the most diverse and important place on the Earth- the ocean. Overfishing also affects human societies which only rely on fish as a source of protein due to their isolation from the outside world; as most of the world’s population is growing their population dwindles at the loss of their food source. Until each government decides to tackle ‘Overfishing’ headfirst the best we, as consumers, can do is reduce the demand of fish and make those who oversee our country know that we do care about the issue at hand. I advise you to read up on how overfishing is affecting the food chain and what the World wildlife organisation is doing to combat the issue here.

Happy feet will forever be one of my childhood favourites and I hope that I have let you see it in a new light.

What film moves you to tears?


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