I never watched Happy Feet when it came out, and I just randomly decided to watch this 2006 film today. I thought it was about a penguin whose “heartsong” is actually dancing, which leads to him being ostracized by his penguin society. I thought it would be a feel-good movie about self-acceptance and self-expression and all that.
Spoilers–the rest of the post is about the film’s ending.
There are elements of that and it’s a big part of the early plot, but I find the ultimate conclusion to the movie to be far more interesting.
The main character, Mumble, the dancing penguin, gets blamed for the diminishing supply of fish that these penguins rely on. He can either give up his weird dancing ways that are angering the penguin Gods, or he can leave.
In a quest to figure out the real reason the fish are disappearing, he chases an “alien” (i.e. human) fishing boat to try to “appeal to their better nature” to stop taking all the fish.
Unable to catch it, he washes up on the shore of an island. He ends up in a zoo, where he starts hallucinating that his family is there. It’s horribly sad.
One day, a little girl tapping on the glass inspires him to dance. He becomes an overnight sensation, and the next scene has him showing up back at the colony with a radio transmitter stuck on his back.
After a few minutes of trying to explain the real fish situation to the colony and how these aliens love dancing penguins, a helicopter shows up. The entire colony starts dancing, and there is a montage of news stories where humans suddenly want to stop fishing the Antarctic because these penguins can dance.
These penguins are now literally dancing for their supper. They are not dancing because they have “happy feet”–it’s now their job. They have become part of the capitalist economy–because they provide entertainment value to humans. Mumble dances because it’s his heartsong–he dances from intrinsic motivation. But the penguins as a group dance because if they don’t, they starve.