DVD Review: Feel-good flicks more than skin deep

DVD Review: Feel-good flicks more than skin deep

By Marc Larocque

Dancing to the heart

“Happy Feet,” a feel-good flick about penguins, is aimed at kids. But embedded in its ice of CGI magic and starry cast are whispers of environmental activism. The Boston Globe touched on this fact in early December (‘Some happy that a family film flaunts dire facts’).

Ever since the movie’s original release in November, the New England Aquarium has experienced an influx of children interested in penguin life, said Max Lieberman, spokesperson for the aquarium.

“We have been having more penguin-related talks and ramped up the amount of content related to penguins,” he said. “We have definitely seen a correlation between the movie’s release and how many children visit and are interested.”

But are children interested in the environmental aspect?

“We have heard some questions about overfishing,” Lieberman said. “But there are fewer questions about this than we we had thought there would be.”

The movie is not luring kids to join Greenpeace, but it is keeping them entertained with elaborate song sequences, bits of hyper humor a la Robin Williams and a charming little Emperor penguin that can rata-tat tat quite well.

It tells the classic tale of a youngling that just doesn’t fit in. While all the other penguins master their “heartsong,” an identity-defining croon, Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood) struggles. The best he can let out is a shrill shriek. And his teacher, Miss Viola (voiced by Magda Szubanski), a prude of a penguin, reprimands Mumble and scorns his parents.

But Mumble finds his own calling. It is tapdancing.

His father Memphis (voiced by Hugh Jackman) offers only opposition to this skill, however.

“It just ain’t penguin,” Memphis says in his Elvis-esque voice.

This is where the message behind the movie begins to develop. It is about going against the grain and not submitting to conformity. And in this mindset, Mumble is victorious.

He faces further strife when a food shortage is attributed to acts of paganism, like his tapdancing, that anger “the Great Guin.”

But conformity is not the darkest evil in the movie. The mood becomes dreary when “alien” machines enter the picture.

As Mumble has been cast aside by his fellow Arctic dwellers, he sets out to investigate the aliens, attempting to prove himself to the others, as well as discover the source of the food shortage.

And this is real. A study published recently in the journal Science predicted if overfishing of depleted seafood populations continues at current rates, the world will run out of commercial stocks by 2048.

Throughout the movie, Mumble uses his taboo dancing skills to improve himself and his environment. Eventually he is abducted by the “aliens”- or humans. He is released because of his dancing and teaches the penguin community about humans.

So now, he choreographs the most elaborate dance sequence in the film for when the humans return.

Of course, it is only then that humans put a ban on all marine harvesting.

When it was released last November, it was a huge hit at the box office. It made more money than another movie about the environment – Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.” One hopes it will resonate in young minds for years to come, spurring them to maintain a healthy Earth. Watch this film with younger siblings or cousins and encourage them to absorb the movie’s message, along with the movie’s more quaint, comic and cuddly aspects.

The DVD also includes an added jewel – a deleted scene featuring the late wildlife activist and enthusiast, Steve Irwin, as an albatross. We also get a little cartoon called “I Love to Singa,” in which the conservative father in a family of owls is initially shocked by a young owlet’s love for jazz music. This kind of soulful gumption seems to always prevail over the wrong and unfair.

“Happy Feet” danced into DVD form March 27 and is $15.99 on amazon.com.

Life’s pursuit

In “The Pursuit of Happyness,” Will Smith stars as a single dad struggling to sell bone density scanners to medical offices after his wife, Linda (played by Thandie Newton), walks out on him.

The movie is based on the memoirs of Chris Gardner, a self-made millionaire entrepreneur.

Gardner seeks a better job while juggling parenting responsibilities. Soon, he is probing the outskirts of the stock market society, and gets a competitive internship for a prestigious stock brokerage firm.

Struggling, Gardner finds himself and his 5-year-old son evicted from their San Francisco apartment with nowhere to go. The two face many problems: crabby people at homeless shelters, hippies stealing the scanners and motel bills they can’t pay.

When Gardner decides to bail on the motel, the son throws himself before the door of their rented room crying. He doesn’t understand his father has no money to pay the bill. He doesn’t even know why they are sleeping there in the first place.

Gardner doesn’t understand either. He’s so boisterously ambitious. They then encounter more hardships.

And in the depths of his anguish, there are unnerving images. One scene shows a car ripping around a corner, full of rich, white kids screaming with glee. There is another moment in the movie in which Gardner’s old white boss, Mr. Frohm, is eagerly holding a taxi and does not have his wallet with him. He asks Gardner if he can spare $5. He has only about $7. Mr. Frohm’s wrinkly hands wrench the five-dollar bill from Gardner. There goes dinner.

The appeal to empathy is at its most poignant when Gardner is forced to sleep in a locked subway station bathroom on top of newspaper with his son. In the morning there are knocks on the door. Gardner starts crying and wishes the sound away.

This movie consists of two things: Gardner crying when things go wrong and Gardner crying when things go right. Things end up going right. His diligent work pays off – as in every inspiring story – and he receives a permanent job at the prestigious stock firm.

At points the plot feels watered down and boring. Throughout the movie Gardner sprinkles narration on the Declaration of Independence and how Jefferson was ominous in his use of the word “pursuit.” The audience is supposed to realize that happiness is a struggle and a life-long pursuit, the theme of the movie.

The acting seems forced at times when Gardner is bursting at the seams. Smith overacts a bit and some scenes were reminiscent of Smith’s song from the early ’90s, “Just the Two of Us.” In the movie, Smith’s real-life son, Jaden plays the role of Gardner’s son, Christopher.

The title alludes to a misspelled mural at a schoolhouse Gardner passes during work.

The movie’s soundtrack featured songs from Stevie Wonder (“Higher Ground”) and Joe Cocker (“Feeling Alright”).

Extra features show conversations with the real-life Chris Gardner, who was on set during the filming. There is also a short documentary on the Rubik’s cube, which allows Gardner to impress a business bigwig, who eventually offers him an internship.

It was released on DVD March 27 for $16.99 on amazon.com.

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