DVD Review: Happy Feet

Movie •••½ Picture ••••½ Sound ••••• Extras ••½
Employing the same motion-capture technique that was so effective in The Polar Express, director George Miller (the Mad Max trilogy, Babe: Pig in the City) has created a world like no other, where singing and dancing penguins hoof and tap like Broadway stars. The first two-thirds of Happy Feet contains quality material dealing with Mumble the penguin being an outcast to his flock because he dances instead of sings. The last third and wrap-up, though, seem rushed, and the environmental message muddled and ill-conceived. But the animation and sound design are still spectacular - enough so that Happy Feet still beat out Monster House and even Pixar's Cars for the 2006 Best Animated Feature Oscar.

The DVD transfer is clean and smooth, with no edge enhancements. Rock-solid colors don't bleed, and detail is equally top-notch: down on the penguins' bodies has texture, and when the flightless birds go through their summer molt, individual feathers float all around. Even in scenes of rapid motion, such as one in which Mumble is chased by a carnivorous seal, every element is distinct.

Audio design makes full use of a 360-degree sound field. A lot is going on most of the time, but none of it is lost, thanks to expert placement of the various component elements. Dialogue is crisp and the music has exceptional presence and frequency range. Effects are placed just right in the Dolby Digital Surround EX mix, the back-center channel being used well to help wrap the sound all around the viewer. And the tap-dance steps, both solo and from the chorus line, sound awesome.

The few extras here include an appealing scene with Mumble, an albatross, and a whale who explains environmental issues, such as why the penguins are having trouble finding fish. Miller introduces it but doesn't reveal whether it was created for the DVD or deleted from the movie. Savion Glover, who does the soundtrack tap-dance steps for Mumble, offers a brief, condescending lesson in dancing, and there are also below-average music videos from Gia and Prince. However, a Warner Bros. Merrie Melodies cartoon, "I Love to Singa," featuring a classically oriented family of owls and their renegade jazz singer son, is ... a hoot. [PG] English, Spanish, and French, Dolby Digital Surround EX; letterboxed (2.35:1) and anamorphic widescreen; dual layer.

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