Rated: PG for some mild peril and rude humor
Length: 108 min.
Age: 6 + (with reservations – read full review) Commonsense Media sez: 5 +
Scary Factor: leopard seal lunging right at the camera and ensuing chase; long sliding sequence with avalanche; another hair-raising chase with orcas; close call with boat propeller
Intense scenes: Mumble is cruelly ostracized and finally banished from the colony; when he’s in the zoo Mumble becomes clinically depressed, to the point of madness
Language: idiot, stupid, blubber butt, lardface, fool, etc.
Sexual content: suggestive lyrics in pop songs; much preoccupation with mating season; lots of sexually suggestive body language and innuendo (especially Lovelace)
Interests: penguins, antarctica, ocean, sea creatures, environmentalism
Next: March of the Penguins (documentary)
An oddball penguin named Mumble cannot sing like the rest of the Emperor Penguin colony, but he has the innate ability to tapdance. The penguins sing to attract their mates, and Mumble becomes a failure at school and finally an outcast. He is accused of some kind of heresy due to his dancing and is blamed for the sudden lack of fish. He sets out to find the humans who are taking all the fish, and by tapdancing for them inspires them to stop overfishing Antarctica. And the entire colony learns the joy of dance.
A seriously weird film, especially if you’ve chosen it because of the cute baby penguin on the poster, which would seem to suggest this is a preschool movie. Unfortunately that baby penguin is only around for the first few scenes before he grows up… along with the content and language of the film. Contentwise, the intended audience actually seems to be 11 and up, however the spectacular, epic musical numbers will captivate all ages. This is a music video in search of a plot. Maybe they should have just strung together the songs and skipped the overwrought story, I don’t know. The big ‘set pieces’ are wonderful, in a “Glee” kind of way. But… still seriously weird. It’s what you get when you cross Footloose with High School Musical with March of the Penguins and an extreme sports movie filmed during Spring Break in Ft. Lauderdale. A very teen sensibility.
Ages 5 to about 7 will find the plot rather mystifying and hard to follow. At the beginning, even with the voiceover the establishment of characters and their names is not clearly conveyed. It took me at least 20 minutes to figure out the hero’s name was Mumble. The dialogue is fast, furious and buried in the mix (watching the DVD on my home tv). The chatter is overlapped and constant – it’s hard to figure out what everyone is saying. (The ‘amigos’ often seem to be all talking at once.)
Sexuality: Full plot comprehension isn’t entirely necessary to enjoy most of this, although the sexual content might deter some parents. The very first scene shows Mumble’s parents courting – his mother sings an extremely sultry “Kiss” by Prince (“I just need your body from dusk ’til dawn”). And throughout the penguins are obsessed with finding and wooing a mate. The males cluster around the gyrating females and call out things like “Let’s talk about eggs, baby, let’s talk about you and me”. Luckily there isn’t any actual mating ‘action’ seen though, it’s all limited to verbal innuendo and body language. For example, Lovelace (Robin Williams doing Barry White/Mr. T) struts around advising the ladies to “avert your eyes because I’ve been known to hypnotize” and after telling everyone to go forth and multiply he retires to his couch “of perpetual indulgence” with a group of females, asking “who’s first?”
You get the picture. It’s all weirdly centred around sex appeal, which, granted, is an imperative in nature, but hardly an overriding concern for the apparent audience (by the look of the cutesy wootsy poster) of preschoolers. Of course the sexual content will whiz right by most young viewers, so perhaps I needn’t be so concerned about it. My five-year-old LOVED the dancing and danced along every time the music started up (“Boogie Wonderland” et al). I’m just not sure that we need to hasten the exposure to sex-drenched pop music that our children will inevitably encounter as they get a little older.
Scary stuff: There are several really scary scenes… an edge-of-your-seat scene in which a leopard seal repeatedly lunges right at camera with his sharp teeth snapping at our hero, and an extended underwater chase. Mumble and his new friends zoom down an icy slope apparently having fun but causing an avalanche all around them and narrowly evading being crushed. (Uncertain cues during this – characters are happy but music and sfx ominous and rumbling.) Two huge killer whales (orcas) leap at the penguins, toying with them and tossing them around wildly – momentarily eating one penguin but then spitting him out again. (?) General velocity of all the chases and threats may unnerve some.
Language: Generally pre-teen/teenage talk, with numerous insults and macho banter from the band of ‘amigos’. (“Without us, the chicas got no boom!” Much thrusting of hips. “Not tonight, baby.” “Don’t be so snooty, booty.”) Lovelace at one point seems about to drop the f-bomb when he angrily shouts at Mumble “to go fffffff-orth and multiply!”
Generally Disturbing: The zoo scene is over-the-top for youngsters too, as Mumble enters a surreal “heaven”, and finally nearly loses his mind entirely in the asylum-style setting. Shades of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest… which you don’t often see in children’s entertainment! After hallucinating that he’s seeing his family back home he slips into a deep catatonic depression, the only cure for which turns out to be dancing.
Environmental themes: Environmental issues are certainly prominent, the humans are presented as an alien race with terrifying characteristics. Which seems justified when a story is presented from an animal point of view. Unfortunately the ‘solutions’ to environmental problems are handled hastily, as if the makers had run out of screen time to make it all more believable. Mumble starts dancing and the humans are suddenly rabidly interested in him, the entire colony dances and immediate moratoriums on antarctic fishing are pronounced.
Other themes: Social misfit follows the beat of his own drummer, is isolated from his friends and family for his ‘difference’ (although his mother and putative girlfriend are always loyal), and eventually wins everyone over to his way of doing things. The artistic temperament and following your dream, that kind of thing.
Religion: The emperor penguins worship a penguin deity (“The Great Guin”) and the elders – one bossy Scot and others who sound Jewish – are strictly dogmatic about any heresy (ie. dancing). “If we are devout the fish will return.” This film is certainly harshly critical of religion and some parents may object to this aspect. (Footloose deja vu.)
In conclusion: Young kids will love the big musical numbers with “flash mob” choreography, and the fun swimming scenes, though this movie in general seems to be aimed more at pre-teens and teenagers in its attitude and sexual overtones. Technically and artistically a very accomplished work, gorgeously done, but confused about its audience. (Marketing images centred around cute baby penguin are clearly at odds with vast majority of older content.)