A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Kids are likely to pick up some talking points about conservation and environmentalism and may be inspired to learn more about penguins communicating through vocalization. They'll also learn the importance of being true to yourself.
Promotes importance of friendships and family and value of supporting and accepting one another despite differences. The plotline of penguins finding a mate feels overly sexual at times, but the overall story is well-meaning and positive. Ultimately the message of embracing your own uniqueness shines through. Strong environmental messages and themes.
Positive Role Models
Mumble is an excellent role model, showing integrity, bravery, determination. He's also compassionate, open-hearted, optimistic. He embraces being different and seeks to protect his colony even after they shun him. Gloria is happy, caring, confident. Both parents are loving. Mom accepts her son's difference from the start, but Dad struggles to accept Mumble as he is until the very end. The Adelie penguins are supportive and encouraging, accepting Mumble without prejudice.
Though never referred to as disabilities, Mumble's "happy feet" and inability to sing are treated as such. It's OK, but not great disability representation: For starters, it's harmful that Mumble's disabilities need to be blamed on something (his father dropping him when he was an egg), rather than being shown as a natural occurrence. And the movie doesn't go far enough in modeling positive behavior, as Mumble is only accepted by the colony after he saves them from starvation. As for the rest of the film, diversity is lacking. Most main characters are male, while the two significant female characters are reduced to being love interests. Racial and ethnic stereotypes include all of the smaller Adelie penguins being coded as stereotypically Latino: party-loving, sexually energetic, used as comic relief. A larger-bodied penguin coded as Black comes across as an oversexed, fundamentalist preacher. Two of these characters are voiced by Robin Williams putting on exaggerated accents, reflecting a lack of diversity among the cast. Lastly, the Emperor penguins are given a nonspecific religion that's portrayed as closed-minded. (They use religion to justify banishing Mumble from the colony.)
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Violence & Scariness
The penguins are attacked by scary leopard seals. They face cold and blizzards. Seabirds threaten to eat baby Mumble, pinning him down, then leaving him shivering in an ice hole. A large Emperor penguin slaps a smaller Adelie penguin. Peril when killer whales try to catch the penguins; Lovelace is dragged under water by the neck, and then they're all pursued and nearly eaten by the whales. The penguins are also nearly killed by a massive, sinister fishing boat. Upsetting scene when Mumble is trapped inside a zoo and hallucinates seeing his family and friends.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Sexy talk and suggestive behavior throughout is open to interpretation -- it may seem racy to an adult but will go over most kids' heads. Strong focus on penguins finding a mate, with associated implications of them finding one another sexually attractive. They must sing a unique "heart song" in order to find a mate -- these are all pop songs, many with lyrics that include references to making love, being turned on. Female penguins' shape suggests they have breasts and cleavage. Adelie penguin banter objectifies the females; one thrusts his hips at the "chicas." Lovelace has a group of adoring female singers; they follow him to what's implied to be his bedroom as he says, "Who's first?" Mumble bumps into another penguin's private parts. Reference to male penguins not wanting to hug each other. Some innuendoes from a male penguin about female penguins wanting him.
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"Freakin'," reference to kissing penguins' butts. "Shut up," "fatty," "idiot," "fool," "go forth and multiply."
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Happy Feet is an appealing animated film with catchy music and well-meaning messages alongside some suggestive content and stereotypes. There's sexy talk and suggestive behavior from the very beginning, which the movie justifies through the plotline of penguins seeking mates. Much of this will likely go over most kids' heads, but it could lead to some uncomfortable moments. Young kids might be scared by chase sequences involving leopard seals and killer whales, along with darkly lit encounters with the human world toward the end. The movie deals with environmental themes related to humans intruding on natural habitats, but it avoids the heavy-duty questions of how to solve the problem. Though the movie doesn't specifically refer to Mumble's "happy feet'' and inability to sing as disabilities, they very much are in this context, and the movie is largely about the community coming to accept Mumble as he is. Racial and ethnic stereotypes abound: The physically smaller penguins are coded as Latino and portrayed as party-loving animals, while a bigger-bodied penguin coded as Black comes across as an oversexed, fundamentalist preacher. Still, the movie's messages of integrity, social acceptance, and embracing your own uniqueness shine through. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Lest you think this upbeat animated musical is a rip-off of the 2005 documentary March of the Penguins, let's set the record straight. Though Happy Feet manages to sneak in some real-life penguin oddities to fascinate viewers, this CGI movie is very much aiming for charm and happiness, not the harshness of the struggle to survive in a challenging environment. On the whole, the star-studded voice cast does a thoroughly entertaining job of portraying a community of anthropomorphized penguins. But with Nicole Kidman doing her breathiest Marilyn Monroe impression and Williams in amoral evangelist territory, you can't help feeling that at least some of the content is rather sexual for the young target audience. Fortunately, the overarching message is well-intentioned, with Mumble a strong role model for integrity, compassion, and determination.
Meanwhile, Mumble's dancing isn't just awfully cute but also true-to-life, thanks to the motion-capture techniques used to graft acclaimed dancer Savion Glover's moves onto the penguin's body. At face value, Happy Feet is a visual treat with dynamic characters and a funky vibe. And if you can see beyond the overly sexual tone that keeps popping up and racially coded stereotypes, you'll find positivity and fun, mesmerizing Antarctic landscapes, and a toe-tapping soundtrack.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.