Happy Feet: An animated jukebox musical

Happy Feet: An animated jukebox musical
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Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood) has been expelled from the penguin colony. His dancing upsets the elders, but he finds that Adelie penguins have a much more open attitude.

His new best friends – five party-loving Argentinean Adelies, led by the dashing Ramon (voiced by Robin Williams) – climb with him to the top of the ridge. They jump off for the long and eventful ride to the sea.

Notes by Paul Byrnes


Additional notes on music score

Happy Feet features many of the sonic ingredients common to contemporary animation soundtracks, including a wide range of popular music, tightly orchestrated instrumental score, atmospherics and overt sound effects.

The film could also be described as a jukebox musical whereby previously recorded songs are worked into the film's soundtrack. Sometimes these songs are sung by the actors who voice the characters. Other times they are adapted and appropriated to fit with the mood of a particular scene.

Two soundtrack albums were released with the film, serving as extra-promotional material. The first album contained songs from and inspired by the film. The second featured John Powell's instrumental score.

This clip begins with sweeping shots of a polar landscape soon settling in on the penguins dancing while they ascend a peak. Upbeat Latin hip-hop music, assisted by rhythmic chants, calls and singing as well as the sounds of the penguins tap dancing, helps to build excitement.

For the downhill slide, the score introduces a faster rhythmic-orientated progression, comprising bombastic orchestral strings (including stabs and tremolos), percussion, brass and electronic beats. Comical utterances emitted by the penguins, combined with the sounds of the downhill ride (including banging, sliding and screaming sounds), create a kind of joyful suspense.

When the penguins finally hit the water and become submerged, a choral motif provides relief from the loud and intense previous musical segment.

In some ways, this ethereal music correlates to the underwater setting – the sense of floating in the abyss. Helping this effect along is the attenuation of sound effects and the adding of reverberation. But when danger reappears, the music picks up where it left off.

Animation is a highly staged and constructed art form, typically achieved through the rapid succession of drawn, painted or sculpted images or rendered as CGI (Computer-Generated Imagery).

The confines of realism, therefore, do not generally apply in the same way as in a medium like photography. The soundtracks of animated films – as this clip demonstrates – also tend to enjoy a degree of freedom and a suspension of (sonic) disbelief. 

Notes by Johnny Milner