DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Happy Feet

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Ken_McAlinden, Mar 13, 2007.

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  1. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    Happy Feet

    Directed By: George Miller

    Starring: Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, Brittany Murphy, Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, Hugo Weaving, E.G. Daily, and a motion captured Savion Glover

    Studio: Warner Brothers

    Year: 2006

    Rated: PG

    Film Length: 108 minutes

    Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

    Subtitles: English, Spanish, French

    Release Date: March 27, 2007

    I don't sing. I don't dance. I don't like to be around people who do.
    -David Letterman
    For anyone who saw "March of the Penguins" and noticed the conspicuous absence of large scale musical production numbers... For anyone who saw "The Jazz Singer" and noticed the conspicuous absence of Antarctic wildlife... George Miller has made the film for you.

    The Film

    "Happy Feet" tells the story of Mumble (Wood as an adult, Daily as a child, Glover when he's dancing). Unlike every other emperor penguin, Mumble cannot sing, but he is a heck of a tap dancer. This makes him an outcast in his community since every penguin is supposed to have a heart song and dancing is "just not penguin". This is a source of embarassment for his father, Memphis (Jackman), although his mother, Norma Jean (Kidman), is a little more understanding. Mumble gains some self-confidence from his childhood friend Gloria (Murphy) and a group of rockhopper Penguins he befriends, but just as he is about to get the whole penguin population dancing to his tune, he is scapegoated by Noah the Elder (Weaving) for being the reason that the penguin gods are not providing them with enough fish. Mumble decides he must find and talk to the "aliens" (aka humans) who are the real source of the declining fish population.

    George Miller does not stray far from familiar territory with his first fully animated (CGI motion capture) film. The plot and characterizations borrow heavily from his previous "Babe" films with their plucky runt-of-the-litter/gotta-be-me protagonist. The cuteness factor is off the charts, at times to the detriment of the film. Fluffy baby penguins are inherently cute, singing and dancing penguins is an allowable conceit for a musical film, Elijah Wood voicing a character is a sufficient excuse for him to have exaggerated big blue eyes, but having Jackman and Kidman voice characters named Memphis and Norma Jean in faux Elvis and Marilyn Monroe voices is pushing too hard for characters who are not intended as comic relief.

    The excessive cuteness is mitigated by some occasional dark turns. Comic relief is provided by Robin Williams, who voices two different rockhopper penguins: Ramon - the leader of a gang of fiery Latino-voiced penguins, and Lovelace - a respected guru with a Barry White voice who wears a mystic artifact around his neck that looks suspiciously like a plastic ring from a six pack. Lovelace serves as narrator during parts of the film, mostly in the beginning long before he is introduced, but this device seems a bit lazy and unnecessary. Running gags about how humans are perceived by the various animals are consistently pretty funny.

    The music is a mishmash of contemporary songs a la "Moulin Rouge". It's fun to try to pick out all the songs that are being blended during the medleys, and the conceit of each penguin having its own heart song that is sung in hopes of attracting its mate creates a novel excuse for the medleys to be employed in some of the big production numbers. Of the topline celebrities doing their own singing in the film, Brittany Murphy comes off the best. She should do more musicals.

    The Video

    The transfer looks clean and detailed. Halos are present around high contrast edges. They are low in intensity, although there are second order halos visible. They are barely noticeable on small to medium size displays, but very annoying on large projection set-ups. Compression artifacts are occasionally visible, frequently around the aforementioned edge halos.

    The Audio

    The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, encoded at 384 kbps, makes very dramatic use of all of the discrete channels, creating a pleasing, enveloping, three-dimensional sound field. Why the disc producers did not go with a full 448 kbps bitrate for a film so dependent on its music, I do not know, but to my ears, fidelity does not sound wildly out of line with most modern DD5.1 tracks. Spanish and French 5.1 dubs, also encoded at 384 kbps, are available, but I did not review them.

    The Extras

    When the disc is first started, the viewer is treated to skippable promotional trailers for "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix", "Fred Claus", "IMAX Deep Sea", "The Nativity", and "Nancy Drew". This is followed by a PSA on sustainable seafood that ties in with the movie's theme and a tri-fold card insert to the DVD case rating various types of seafood for the environmentally sustainable way in which it is harvested. All of the above are presented in 4:3 video and Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, with the film trailers other than "Deep Sea" letterboxed.

    The extras menu looks jam-packed, going on for three pages, but when you actually view them, they do not add up to much. All of the extras are presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound encoded at 192 kbps.

    First, and most significant, is a deleted scene entitled "Mumbles Meets a Blue Whale". In a 55 second introduction, George Miller relates how "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin was originally brought on to the project to play an albatross in a scene where Mumbles encounters a whale in the ocean, but as they reworked the screenplay, Irwin's vocal cameo was switched to the part of an elephant seal. The filmmakers went back and finished the albatross and whale scene, which runs two minutes and 20 seconds including a closing title card paying tribute to the late Irwin. Both the introduction and the deleted scene are presented in 16:9 enhanced video. The actual scene is matted to the film's 2.35:1 theatrical ratio.

    Next up, is a 28 second animated clip, presented in a 16:9 enhanced 2.35:1 aspect ratio called "A Happy Feet Moment". It looks like a gag, which I will not spoil, cooked up by the animators on a slow day. It is the type of thing normally considered perfect for an "Easter Egg". Egg-haters will be pleased that they do not have to search around the menus or enter complex remote commands to access this clip.

    "Dance Like a Penguin: Stomp to the Beat" is a five minute and 20 second featurette, presented in 4:3 letterboxed widescreen, focusing on tap-dancer Savion Glover. Do you want to learn to dance like Savion Glover? Let me save you five minutes and 20 seconds and tell you that you need to work hard for a long time and have good balance. There is a tiny bit of cute animation where baby Mumbles interacts with Glover and a blink and you'll miss it shot of Glover in the motion capture suit early on, but the featurette is really just useless fluff.

    The disc also offers two music videos. Gia's "Hit Me Up", running three minutes and 21 seconds and presented in a 16:9 aspect ratio letterboxed in a 4:3 frame, is a standard quick cut and close-ups music video with the singer and a lot of background dancers that the editor will not let you see dance for more than a half second. A few film clips are peppered through the video's later half. Prince's "The Song of the Heart" is a three minute song that sounds like Prince wrote it in about three minutes and thirty seconds after reading a synopsis of the film's plot. The video, presented at a 2.35:1 aspect ratio in a letterboxed 4:3 frame, consists entirely of clips from the film.

    "I Love to Singa" is a classic 1936 Merrie Melody short from director Tex Avery. It offers a similar "I Gotta Be Me" storyline to "Happy Feet" (...and "Babe", and "The Jazz Singer", and ...), but gets it done in an efficient eight minutes and eleven seconds. It is presented in its original 4:3 theatrical aspect ratio. While this short has been previously released on the "Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Two", this is its first appearance on DVD properly encoded and flagged for playback on progressive displays.

    The film's theatrical trailer is presented in a 16:9 enhanced 2.35:1 aspect ratio. It consists primarily of the character of Ramon singing "My Way" in Spanish. This footage is unique to the trailer. In the scene in the movie where the song is used, Mumble is lip-synching to Ramon's singing.

    The extras menu promises some fun interactive DVD-ROM content, but nothing appears to be on the disc save the Interactual player "skin" and some web links. There was no non-promotional on-line content relating to "Happy Feet" at any of the links, but that may change come the disc's actual street date.

    Packaging

    The disc comes packaged in a standard hard plastic Amaray-style keepcase. The hard case comes inside of a cardboard slipcover that reproduces the same artwork as the hard case. The cover art keeps up with the "no cuteness is too much cuteness" ethos of the film itself. It shows Mumble as a baby surrounded by the tiny rockhopper penguins he befriends in the film. In the film itself, Mumble does not meet these guys until he is adult-sized. The only insert to the case is the tri-fold "Seafood Watch" reference card I described in the "Extras" section of the review.

    Summary

    "Happy Feet" is a slight, breezy entertainment with a heartfelt, if heavy handed, ecological message. I don't necessarily agree with the folks who gave it the Academy Award as best animated feature of 2006 over Pixar's "Cars", but it is a pleasant diversion that is safe for family consumption and may get young children dancing in their home theater aisles. The video quality falls short of reference standard, but the audio presents a good rendering of a lively and engaging surround sound mix. Extras are plentiful, but inconsequential.

    Note: If you are interested in an assessment of the HD-DVD release of this title, check out Neil Middlemiss' forum review available at this link.

    Regards,
     
  2. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Executive Producer

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    Thanks for the review, Ken! Yours is just about the most positive review I've read of this film, and you didn't even seem to think it was all that.

    I can only assume that its two wonderful Oscar competitors cancelled each other out come voting time. [​IMG]
     
  3. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    After I write my reviews, I like to go back and see what other critics thought about the films. If you believe in the power of the "Tomatometer", "Happy Feet" was actually better reviewed than both "Monster House" and "Cars". If you actually read the reviews, it had a lot of modestly favorable reviews, but only a few raves. I actually thought "Cars", "A Scanner Darkly", "Flushed Away", and "Over the Hedge" were all better films than "Happy Feet". I did not see "Monster House".

    Regards,
     
  4. Lord Dalek

    Lord Dalek Cinematographer

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    384 Kbps? Weird...
     
  5. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    Perhaps since Prince worked on the film, the DVD authors wanted to party like it was 1999. At least we didn't get a snapper case. [​IMG]

    Regards,
     
  6. Stephen_J_H

    Stephen_J_H All Things Film Junkie
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    I think you answered your own question. Because all three 5.1 tracks are 384kbps, maybe space was an issue.
     
  7. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    Providing the original theatrical soundtrack at 448kbps would only require an additional bit budget of 64kbps - hardly enough to break the bank. Warner's "Blood Diamond" has three 448kbps tracks and a 192kbps commentary track on one disc. That disc only has a trailer for an extra, but the movie is 35 minutes longer than "Happy Feet". All of "Happy Feet"'s extras combined are less than 35 minutes.

    Regards,
     
  8. IanS

    IanS Stunt Coordinator

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    This is the movie that beat Bond at the box office in North America
     
  9. Colin Jacobson

    Colin Jacobson Producer

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    Okay - and you point is...?
     
  10. Matthew Clayton

    Matthew Clayton Stunt Coordinator

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    It seems that the WB is lowering the DD 5.1 bit rate for their blockbuster hits, yet giving the bombs the 448 kps DD 5.1 track nowadays. But didn't The Departed have three full-fledged 448 kps DD 5.1 tracks (English, French and Spanish)? That was a modest hit for the WB...

    I hope the WB maintains consistency with their further releases -- preferably give every one of their modern theatrical releases the highest bit rate DD 5.1 track allowed.

    Although it won't be given a DVD release until December (let alone released until July), I hope the WB goes back to 448 kps for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix -- the 384 kps track for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was disappointing in that it didn't sound quite as robust like the first three movies did, preferably due to the lower DD 5.1 bitrate.
     
  11. Yumbo

    Yumbo Cinematographer

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    I found the picture quite horrible with mosquito noise EVERYWHERE.
     
  12. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    Hmmm? I didn't see it everywhere, but there was no shortage of it. The weird thing was that it seemed to go along with the high contrast edge ringing, and was present even around static objects. I called it "compression artifacts" in my review because that's what it looks like, but referring to it as "mosquito noise" is probably a better term since it seems to be as much or more pronounced in static shots when the object is not moving as it is around pans and movement.

    Regards,
     
  13. Stephen_J_H

    Stephen_J_H All Things Film Junkie
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    Yet the raves go on and on for the HD DVD version. Conspiracy?
     
  14. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Executive Producer

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    I haven't seen any of those others yet aside from Cars, which I think people will look back on more fondly than many critics did initially. They're all on my to-see list though.

    If you have kids, or if you appreciate movies aimed at kids that aren't dumbed-down, then you should definitely check out Monster House. You can read my review of it in the Reviews Archive folder here. It's a shame that Sony didn't push it as hard as they could have (although the DVD is fabulous) -- it's the sort of thing that could have been a minor Halloween classic.
     
  15. Stephen Orr

    Stephen Orr Screenwriter

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    Passed on this at the theaters. It's on the way from Netflix right now.
     
  16. Jon Martin

    Jon Martin Cinematographer

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    Just watched this from Netflix.

    I'll admit to not being the most techie guy around her, I watched it on a standard 37 inch Sony Wega, without even a surround sound system.

    But, for those that watched this on low end systems, was it just me or did the film not look good? The picture quality felt washed out.

    Compared to a lot of the recent computer animated films (like FLUSHED AWAY which looked great), I thought the transfer was pretty weak. And again, I don't even pick up on a lot of the technical complaints that get mentioned here.

    As for the film, I also wasn't impressed. BUT, my 3 year old niece loved it in the theatre, and has already watched it a few times on DVD. So, it is probably more for kids.
     
  17. Jonny P

    Jonny P Supporting Actor

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    I watched this on a 37" Vizio LCD Widescreen TV that I purchased last week.

    This was the third computer-animated movie that I had watched (after "Chicken Little" and "Cars") on the television using my Sony progressive scan DVD player from 2005 (not an upconvert player).

    I, too, was "stunned" by how poor the "Happy Feet" transfer looked. There seemed to be quite a bit of what looked like "grain" in the image.

    As the initial review pointed out, there seemed to be a lot of "noise" around objects -- especially the letters on the names on the opening credits.

    Compared to both "Chicken Little" and "Cars," this was disappointing.

    Obviously, standard definition DVDs aren't going to have the sharpness or resolution of the hi-def discs. Yet it has been my experience so far that computer-animated SD discs tend to look at least "smooth" even if 480p is a bit "soft" looking on an HD set.

    For a while, I was convinced this movie had been transferred from film instead of from a digital source.

    I thought this movie was "so-so" in theaters. I purchased it because I expected it to look great, and I wanted to see if I was missing something from theaters. I mean, it did win the Best Animated Picture at the Oscars, but for the life of me, I don't know why.

    Anyhow...

    I don't know if this regular DVD version was "dialed down" so that the Blu-Ray and HD-DVD releases would look significantly better to consumers or not.

    I'd hope that studios aren't doing that.

    "Happy Feet" didn't look like the DVD transfer of a movie released in 2007. Instead, it looked more like the transfer of a movie done several years ago when compression technologies weren't as good as in the past few years.

    That's not to say that it is "horrid," but it is to say that it really isn't up to snuff.
     

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