Saturday, January 23, 2021

Animation Celebration Saturday - Happy Feet 2

Warner Bros, 2011
Voices of Ava Acres, Elijah Wood, Hank Azaria, and Robin Williams
Directed by George Miller
Music and Lyrics by various

Talk of a sequel began almost as soon as the first film was one of the biggest successes of 2006. It wasn't quite as easy as it seemed to get everything back together. Two cast members passed away before recording began; others declined a second round. The motion capture that looked so incredible just a few years before had also come under fire with a series of flops, including one that year. How does the tale of Mumble (Wood) and his son Erik (Acres) look after all that trouble? Let's return to Antarctica for a major penguin dance routine and find out...

The Story: Erik isn't a dancer like his father or most of the other penguins. He's at a loss to figure out what he can do until he sees Sven (Azaria), a puffin passing himself off as a penguin, fly. Sven and Lovelace (Williams) fled humans who saved them from an oil spill, ending up back in Antarctica. Erik thinks that flying is the answer when the Emperor penguins are trapped after the ice around them shifts. Mumble knows penguins can't fly and tries to dance...but when he hurts himself, it'll take him, Erik, a herd of elephant seals, and two little krill to prove that even the smallest step can make the biggest difference.

The Animation: Once again, this is where the film excels. Antarctica is rendered beautifully, especially the greenish ice that breaks off where the penguins are trapped. The motion capture is a bit better done. They really did amazing things with the crowds of animals here, getting them all dancing in unison (even the krill). Even the humans in their brief appearances seem slightly less creepy. 

The Song and Dance: Along with the animation, the best thing about this is the decent cast. Pink replaces the late Brittany Murphy well enough (especially in her numbers), while Azaria attempts a Norwegian accent as the con artist puffin who convinced the penguins he's a demigod. Brad Pitt and Matt Damon have more fun as Will and Bill the Krill, the latter of whom is determined to move up the food chain. Acres is an adorable little Erik, and Richard Carter lends gravitas to the role of Bryan the Beach Master elephant seal. And at the very least, the attempts to toss in an environmental message are a lot more subtle this time. 

Favorite Number: The penguins really get into their opening medley, as we see how they've changed since the previous movie and are introduced to Erik and his lack of dancing ability. "The Mighty Sven" is Azaria and Williams' retelling of how they escaped the humans. Pink's ballad "Bridge of Light" encourages the other penguins to hold on when they're all frightened of being trapped forever. Queen's "Under Pressure" and "Rhythm Nation" by Janet Jackson provide the backdrop for the big finale, in which all of the animals in the Antarctic - even the tiniest krill - help shift the ice and free the penguins.

What I Don't Like: When the story isn't retreading the first movie, it's a crashing bore. I don't care if the krill wants to move up in the food chain or the Adelie penguins are still chasing mates. It lacks the charm and near-documentary feel of the first one. Mumble's problems with his son and the penguins getting stuck in the grotto lacks the suspense and drama of Mumble being cast out and their food supply running low. 

The Big Finale: Ok time-waster if you have kids who loved the first one or really love the cast; not necessary for anyone else. 

Home Media: Easily found on all formats, including bundled with the original film in two collections.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Cult Flops - Lost Horizon (1973)

Columbia, 1973
Starring Peter Finch, Bobby Van, George Kennedy, and Sally Kellerman
Directed by Charles Jarrott
Music by Burt Bacharach; Lyrics by Hal David

Inspired by the massive success of The Sound of Music, producers increasingly hedged their bets on epic musicals often made on location with popular stars and directors of the time. They debuted as "roadshow" attractions, complete with intermissions, programs, and stage shows, moving from city to city on a limited-release basis before going out to the general public. Lost Horizon was the last musical to receive a roadshow release. Producer Ross Hunter and songwriters Bacharach and David had high hopes for it...but well...why don't we begin during a revolution in Asia and see where the problems lay...

The Story: Richard (Finch) and George (Michael York) Conway manage to get a small group of people out of the country before the revolution gets worse. Their plane is hijacked shortly after they leave and crashes in the Himalayas. They're rescued by Chang (Sir John Gielgud) and his people, who lead them to a lamastary in the mystical land of Shangri-La. Surrounded on all sides by mountains, Shangri-La is an isolated paradise. People live for centuries and enjoy abundant health, it's always sunny, and greed is unknown. 

Everyone loves it there but George, who is suspicious of Chang's motives and desperately wants to leave with his brother. He convinces the lovely dancer Maria (Olivia Hussey) that the outside world is worth seeing. His brother isn't sure, especially after he falls for the teacher Catherine (Liv Ullman) and the High Lama (Charles Boyer) wants him to be his successor. George, however, discovers Chang's true motives...but even after he leaves and discovers the truth about Shangri-La, Richard can never forget it. 

The Song and Dance: At least the production is beautiful. The color blazes in every shade of the rainbow once they get to Shangri-La, and the costumes and sets add a note of vague Tibetan that the casting unfortunately lacks. Finch and Kennedy are at least trying a little, and Van looks like he enjoys his numbers with the kids. 

Favorite Number: Maria performs the willowy welcome "Share the Joy" on the night of the refugees' arrival with two other dancers. Catherine and Harry have fun teaching the kids that "The World Is a Circle" as they frolic with them on wooden playground equipment. Sally and Maria discuss why one wants to stay so badly and the other truly wants to leave in "The Things I Will Not Miss." Van also teaches the kids to "Question Me an Answer" a bit later, ending with him tapping into the creek. 

Trivia: This isn't the first time Lost Horizon became a flop musical. The stage version Shangri-La also went over badly in 1956, barely running 20 performances despite a cast that included Dennis King and Jack Cassidy. Its Hallmark Hall of Fame TV adaptation in 1960 doesn't seem to have been well-regarded either. 

Three numbers, "If I Could Go Back," "Where Knowledge Ends (Faith Begins)," and "I Come to You," as well as a reprise of "Living Together, Growing Together," were cut after the initial roadshow engagement. Though they were restored in 2011, most copies of the movie seen online are of the shorter regular release version. 

"Living Together, Growing Together" was the final top 5 song for the The 5th Dimension. 

Bert Bacharach and Hal David had so many problems working together during this film, they ended their profitable partnership. 

What I Don't Like: Let's start with the dated story. Frank Capra couldn't make it work in 1937, and it comes off even worse here. On one hand, Shangri-La is so beautiful and seemingly serene, I can kind of understand why some folks wanted to stay...but like the similar Brigadoon, the idea of a utopia that no one can leave and nothing changes comes off as being pretty creepy. Some people may find it uncomfortably close to being more like a cult than a utopia. 

The casting is a major problem, too. The only person with even the slightest musical talent is Bobby Van, and his character is annoying, obnoxious, and completely unnecessary. Everyone else looks bored when they aren't trying to sing and dance. York has nothing to do besides complain, and Ullman is totally out of place as the sweet teacher. There's also the racial casting - obviously, Gielgud, Massey, and Boyer are hardly Tibetan.

Hermes Pan may have done choreography for movies since the 1930's, but he's at sea with a Tibetan-set epic. His "Living Together, Growing Together" fertility ritual dance looks utterly ridiculous, with its dancers whirling about in bright red loincloths. The song is too slow and laid-back to suggest a passionate ritual and doesn't really fit with the routine. There's also the fact that Finch, Hussey, and Ullman were dubbed, and badly, with their lips frequently out of synch with the voices.

The Big Finale: Despite its failure, it's recently picked up a small fandom of folks who enjoy the inherent camp value and some of the songs. Really, it's more dull and weird than it is campy or fun. Only come here if you're a huge fan of Bacharach and David, the cast, or cult films. 

Home Media: This movie was such a tremendous failure, it never came out on video and wasn't released on DVD until 2011 and Blu-Ray until 2012. With both of those discs out of print and expensive online, your best bet if you absolutely must see this is streaming. It can actually be found for free on a few sites right now, including Tubi and Pluto TV. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Musical Documentaries - No Maps On My Taps

Direct Cinema Limited, 1978
Starring Chuck Green, Howard Sims, Bunny Briggs, and Lionel Hampton
Directed by George T. Nierenberg
Music and Lyrics by various

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day yesterday, I thought I'd try something a little different. By the late 70's, tap dancing was considered to be all but dead outside of a few older dancers who continued to carry on the tradition. Three of these men came together at the Harlem club Smalls Paradise for one last dance-off in 1978. This is their story, and the story of tap as it developed from it's emergence on the streets in the 30's to the heyday of dancers like Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and John W. "Bubbles" Sublett. How does their story look now? Let's start backstage at Smalls and find out...

The Story: We follow the story of tap dancing in America via footage of black dancers going as far back as a 1933 short, Slow Poke, that featured Briggs. The three men show off what they can still do in and around their native Harlem. The film concludes with the trio competing in a dance-off in front of a packed crowd.

The Song and Dance: Short but fascinating if you love dance, tap, or know anything about the careers of these men or Robinson and Sublett. The men considered this to be an elegy, a look at a lost art form and a time gone by. Ironically, it ended up contributing to a revival of tap dancing in the 80's as the trio traveled with the documentary and danced wherever it was shown. And no wonder. This is genuine history, both in the vintage footage from the 30's and the concert shots of the equally delightful moves the men could do in the late 70's. 

The Song and Dance: The movie's worth seeing just for the sequences on stage, especially in the beginning, when we're introduced to each man and what they can do, and that dance-off in the finale as they give their all for the crowd. We also get that brief sequence of Briggs doing a nice number from the rare all-black short Slow Poke and Bubbles and his partner Buck performing "You've Got Something There" from the 1937 Warner Bros musical Varsity Show. We also get to see the famous staircase dance from The Little Colonel with Robinson and Shirley Temple. 

What I Don't Like: Boy, do I wish this movie was longer. I'd love to learn more about these gentlemen and other black tap pioneers. It's just too short to do it's subject matter real justice and should probably be used as a jumping-off point if you're really interested in dance.

The Big Finale: I'm so glad I ran into this on TCM. I'll be honest, while I heard of John W. Bubbles and Bill Robinson, I never heard of the three gentlemen in question. I'm glad I got to know them and their craft. Definitely worth a watch if you have any interest in the history of tap or black dancers. 

Home Media: The DVD can be found from Milestone Films, the company that restored it in 2017, but it's expensive. You may be better off looking for it online or occasionally catching it on TCM. 

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Musical Documentaries - That's Entertainment III

MGM, 1994
Hosted by Gene Kelly, Lena Horne, Esther Williams, Mickey Rooney, and others
Directed by Bud Friedgen and Michael J. Sheridan
Music and Lyrics by various

It took the financially-strapped MGM almost 20 years to bring another MGM documentary with the That's Entertainment moniker to the big screen. In the interim, Turner Entertainment released many of the most popular MGM movies on home video, and cable channels specializing in older films like American Movie Classics showed even more. These movies were no longer as difficult to find as they'd been in 1974, nor were they really out of the public eye. Did we still need these movies by the mid-90's, or should the curtain come down on this franchise? Let's return to MGM Studios with Gene Kelly, and find out...

The Story: Once again, some of the most popular stars of MGM during the Golden Age of Hollywood talk about their vehicles and the dazzling array of films MGM made during its heyday, including many numbers dropped from those films. Your hosts here are:

Gene Kelly discusses the early two-strip Technicolor films of the late 20's and how they fell out of fashion, the sex-charged musicals of the pre-Code early 30's, and the black-and-white operettas and backstage films that replaced them. 

Esther Williams discusses her water-bound swimming extravaganzas of the 40's and 50's. 

June Allyson discusses the dance-heavy musicals of the late 40's and early 50's, along with how an actor got into working at MGM during the Golden Age. 

Cyd Charisse discusses the career of Gene Kelly, including two of his ballets from An American In Paris and Words and Music.

Debbie Reynolds discusses how she joined MGM, how the studio "glamorized" its actresses, and how voice dubbing works. 

Lena Horne discusses her (frequently rough) treatment as a black performer at MGM, how she lost the role of Julie in the 1951 Show Boat to Ava Gardner, and several other actors who lost roles at the studio.

Mickey Rooney discusses the career of his beloved best pal Judy Garland.

Ann Miller discusses the career of Fred Astaire.

Howard Keel discusses how the rise of television and technology like stereophonic sound and widescreen processes and new types of music like rock and roll impacted the MGM musical in the late 50's. 

Gene Kelly finishes the film with a montage of the studio's most famous musical moments over "That's Entertainment!" from The Band Wagon

The Song and Dance: The idea of showcasing numbers cut from films wasn't nearly as common in 1994 before the internet and streaming sites allowed many of these lost numbers to be more widely viewed. In fact, those "lost" numbers are among my favorite moments in the movie. The hosts' dialogue feels a little looser and less gushy. The fact that they allowed Lena Horne to touch on how badly she was treated at the studio showed how much time had changed...and how audiences were now a little more familiar with what really went on behind the scenes at the studios during the so-called Golden Age. 

Favorite Number: We see "Fascinating Rhythm" from Lady Be Good again, this time with alternate shots revealing how MGM put together this amazing Eleanor Powell routine. "Solid Potato Salad" showcases the creepily limber Ross Sisters doing crab imitations in the semi-revue Broadway Rhythm. Reynolds shows off the more glamorous version of "A Lady Loves" from I Love Melvin...and Donald O'Connor's view of things with her as a more down-home farmer's wife that was dropped from the movie. Fred Astaire dances with himself in split-screen in two takes on "I Wanna Be a Dancin' Man" from The Belle of New York...and we see just how perfectly rehearsed he was when the two numbers are exactly the same despite the different costumes. 

"Two-Faced Woman" gives us two routines using the same recording. I have to agree with Reynolds that they probably should have left Cyd Charisse's chorus routine in The Band Wagon; it's certainly aged better than Joan Crawford's tropical blackface routine from Torch Song. Horne has a ton of fun in the bubble bath singing one of her signature numbers, "Ain't It the Truth," from Cabin In the Sky. Judy Garland does far better dancing with a passel of kids and clowning to "Doin' What Comes Naturally" than with the exhausting "I'm an Indian Too" from Annie Get Your Gun.

What I Don't Like: Time and technology keeps catching up with these movies. Most of the cut numbers (and many more) can be found on DVD and Blu-Ray with the films they came from or on YouTube or other sharing sites. Once again, only MGM musicals are discussed. While 20th Century Fox has done at least one documentary of it's own, I really do wish many of the other older studios would dive into their vaults and showcase their older material. 

The Big Finale: I found this movie on video in the late 90's and have owned it in one form or another ever since. The slightly more honest tone and rare numbers makes this my favorite of the three Entertainment movies...but they're all recommended if you love classic musical film like I do. 

Home Media: Slightly easier to find on solo DVD than the other two, but you're still better off looking for the Blu-Ray collection or watching it online. 

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Musical Documentaries - That's Entertainment, Part 2

MGM, 1976
Starring Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly
Directed by Gene Kelly
Music and Lyrics by various

That's Entertainment! was such a smash, MGM began a follow-up almost immediately. Unlike the first film, it only featured two hosts...but considering they were Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, two of the best-known and most beloved dancers in the history of film, they were all it needed. Archivists once again dove into the MGM vaults, not only for musical sequences, but for scenes from dramas and comedies featuring popular stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood. How does this mix look today? Let's begin with Astaire and Kelly, as they introduce a sequence from The Band Wagon, and find out...

The Story: Two of the most famous dancers in films introduce a series of sequences from MGM films of the late 1920's through the early 60's. Among the subjects they discuss are black-and-white musicals, comedy teams and their work at the studio, musicals set in Paris, how musicals have depicted songwriting over the years, Frank Sinatra's career at MGM, and Kathrine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy's work as a team. 

The Song and Dance: And for all the comic and non-musical sequences, "song and dance" are the operative words here. This is the second and last time Astaire and Kelly would dance together. Kelly was 64 when he made this film and Astaire turned 77 shortly after filming, but you'd never know it from watching them dance together. They were good friends in real-life and are obviously enjoying the opportunity to work together. Kelly was right that their dances literally keep the film moving, more than a host standing in front of a set could. 

Of the non-musical segments, my favorite by far was almost the entire stateroom sequence from Night at the Opera. You can never go wrong with The Marx Brothers. The Hepburn-Tracy montage, showing off their equally fascinating appearances in comedies and dramas, is also well-done. 

Favorite Number: We kick things off with the title number from The Band Wagon, joining sequences from other films that illustrate the lyrics as Astaire, Oscar Levant, Jack Buchanon, and Nanette Fabray clown and show off their own world of entertainment. Greta Garbo gets a rare chance to wriggle to the instrumental dance number "Chica Choca" in her last film Two-Faced Woman. Judy Garland introduces one of her signature songs, "Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart," in the 1938 comedy Listen, Darling. Jimmy Durante gives us his own signature song "Inka Dinka Doo" in the 1944 film Two Girls and a Sailor

Trivia: This was the last time Fred Astaire danced on-screen, though he continued appearing in films through 1981. Gene Kelly's last time dancing on-screen would be in the 1980 cult flop Xanadu

Hanna-Barbara did the brief animated sequence. Saul Bass designed the imaginative opening credits that homages the various styles of credits in MGM movies of the 30's through the 50's. 

What I Don't Like: Astaire and Kelly's narration is a little better than the gushing hosts in the first movie, but it's still a little stiff. Not to mention, this admittedly misses the nostalgia factor of seeing all those major stars together in one film. The giant rainbow-colored blocks behind the men for most of their sequences look more like a kid dropped their blocks than the sets for a major documentary...especially compared to Gene's elegant segment in the real Paris. As much as I love Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Jean Harlow, and others, I really wish they'd focused entirely on musicals again. The comedy and drama sequences feel more than a little out of place. 

And once again, there's the fact that you can find almost all of these films on DVD, Blu-Ray, or streaming now, some of them quite easily.

The Big Finale: If you love the two hosts, the first film, or are looking for more background music at home or work, this one is definitely worth checking out. 

Home Media: Same deal here - the individual DVD is out of print, but the Blu-Ray set for the full series is available, and it's on streaming. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Musical Documentaries - That's Entertainment!

MGM, 1974
Hosted by Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, and many more
Directed by Jack Haley Jr.
Music and Lyrics by various

The tagline for this one in 1974 ran "Boy, do we need it now!" And we still need it now, more than ever. Yes, I know most of these movies are on DVD and video or turn up frequently on TCM, but there's just something satisfying about seeing them all here, with the stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood who actually appeared in them talking about their work. By 1974, MGM was on the way to demolishing its famous backlot. Jack Haley Jr. wanted it to go out in a blaze of glory...and he more than succeeded. Let's start on the lot with Sinatra and go way back to the beginning...of sound in movies and film musicals...and see just how much fun these numbers are after all these years...

The Story: The stars of the MGM musicals of the 1930's, 40's, and 50's talk about the history of musical film, the rise of MGM, and how MGM became synonymous with sumptuous, crowd-pleasing musicals until the studios began to disintegrate in the late 50's. Your hosts for this evening:

Frank Sinatra discusses the early talkie musicals, Eleanor Powell's vehicles, and the black-and-white musicals of the 30's and 40's.

Elizabeth Taylor discusses the musicals of the later 40's and early 50's and her involvement with them.

Peter Lawford discusses how the MGM studio system worked, how he occasionally ended up in musicals despite not really being a great singer or dancer, and the "teen musicals" featuring young talent in the late 40's and early 50's. 

James Stewart returns us to the early talkie era to discuss performers who, like Lawford, were thrown awkwardly into musicals, from Robert Montgomery to Clark Gable to his own (better than he'd admit) performance of "Easy to Love" in Born to Dance.

Mickey Rooney discusses his close friendship with Judy Garland, their famous series of "barnyard musicals," and the director who worked on them - Busby Berkeley.

Gene Kelly discusses Fred Astaire's career, including their first of two times dancing together in Ziegfeld Follies

Donald O'Connor discusses Esther Williams and her swimming extravaganzas of the later 40's and 50's.

Debbie Reynolds discusses how she got started at MGM and the 1951 MGM version of Show Boat.

Fred Astaire discusses the career of his good friend Gene Kelly.

Liza Minelli discusses her mother Judy Garland's career at MGM.

Bing Crosby discusses his two MGM musicals and touches on the MGM films of the mid and late 50's, including Gigi, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and Hit the Deck

Frank Sinatra returns to end with one of the crowning jewels of MGM musicals, "The American In Paris Ballet" from the Oscar-winning 1951 film of that title. 

The Song and Dance: You want big stars? You get them here. If nothing else, this is invaluable as a record of many of these stars late in their careers, and Minnelli early in hers. In fact, at this writing, Minnelli is the only host still alive today. It's even more valuable as a record of the crumbling MGM studio, right before it was demolished to build housing units (which are still there to this day). 

Most of all...if ever a movie could be described as "feel-good," the That's Entertainment documentaries fit the bill. Despite the tinge of melancholy with the fading backlot sets, you really do get a sense of how much fun - and hard work -went into these movies, and how beloved they were for audiences of the day and (most of) the people who made them.

Favorite Number: Clark Gable gets an "A" for effort for his goofy girls-and-hoofing routine to "Puttin' On the Ritz" from the otherwise non-musical drama Idiot's Delight. Even Jimmy Stewart called the number "delightfully corny." Cary Grant does so well with his "Did I Remember?" with Jean Harlow in the drama Suzy I wish he appeared in more flat-out musicals. Garland gets a rare chance to join up with teen soprano Deanna Durbin (who later joined Universal) in "Americana" from the short Every Sunday. A montage of colorful water ballets from Esther Williams movies may show the numbers to better advantage than her generally dull vehicles do. 

What I Don't Like: This is wonderful if you love MGM musicals like I do, but first of all, this being produced by MGM means you don't get the whole story. Other studios made musicals during the Golden Age of Hollywood, too. You miss hearing about Shirley Temple and the Fox Blondes, what happened to Deanna Durbin when she was picked up by Universal, Crosby's formative years at Paramount, and Rita Hayworth and the Columbia musicals of the 40's and 50's. Second, the hosts can frequently come off as too gushy, and other than Lawford's admittance to not being a willing participant in most of his musicals, don't really get into the darker side of the Studio System. (We'll hear more about that when Lena Horne hosts in That's Entertainment III.) 

Third, there are times, like when Minnelli discusses her generation "just beginning," when the movie doesn't really date very well. There's also the fact that almost all of these films can be found in full on DVD, Blu-Ray, streaming, and cable. You no longer need to tune into a documentary to catch the best of classic musical film. 

The Big Finale: Great background music if you love musicals like me, remember when this was huge in 1974, or are a big fan of the MGM musicals of the 30's, 40's, and 50's.

Home Media: Blu-Ray and streaming seems to be your best bet for the That's Entertainment films at the moment. The solo DVDs and original That's Entertainment DVD collection are out of print and expensive, but the Blu-Ray collection from the Warner Archives was re-released last August, and all three movies and That's Dancing can be found on streaming as well.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Animation Celebration Saturday - Happy Feet

Warner Bros, 2006
Voices of Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, Brittany Murphy, and Hugh Jackman
Directed by George Miller
Music and Lyrics by various

With cold weather hitting much of the US at this time of year, I thought it was the appropriate time to cover another snow-themed animated film. Happy Feet was a surprise hit in 2006. Director and screenwriter George Miller was inspired by documentaries and documentary filmmakers who had shot footage in Antarctica to make a movie set there. Considering what the last animated musical about penguins in Antarctica I reviewed was like, how does this one fare? Let's follow a feather to the Antarctic shores, where emperor penguins are beginning their mating season, and find out...

The Story: Memphis (Jackman) and Norma Jean (Nicole Kidman) mate because their "heartsongs" - the songs penguins sing to attract the opposite sex - match. They have an egg, but Memphis drops it while marching with the other father penguins to protect it from the harsh winter. Their baby, Mumble, can't sing, but he can do an amazing tap dance. He's always had a crush on Gloria (Murphy), who has the best voice in the rookery. One day while dancing on his own, he encounters a group of skua (predatory sea birds). In between attempts to eat him, the largest claims he gained his yellow-tagged foot after being abducted by aliens.

As he grows up, Mumble keeps trying to attract Gloria, even though he can't sing. He flees a leopard seal and discovers a group of Adelie penguins who love his dance moves. They try to help him sing for Gloria, but the fact that the song is in Spanish and sounds nothing like Mumble gives him away. His dance moves win Gloria over anyway, until Noah (Hugo Weaving) and the other elders of the tribe claim his dances are scaring away the fish and banish him. Mumble will go a long way to get his love back, literally around the world as he and the Adelie "amigos" discover how their "guru" rockhopper penguin Lovelace (Williams) got a set of plastic six-pack rings stuck around his neck, and he finds out what really happened to the fish that supports their ecosystem.

The Animation: Motion capture technology comes to the fore here, both as a guide for the dance moves and to animate the few humans towards the end of the film. It looks better on the utterly perfect dance moves. Those penguins can really move, even made to look as realistic as a penguin can get away with and still be cute to humans. The snowy white of the Antarctic is rendered so well you get cold just watching the penguin fathers protect their eggs in that snowstorm!

The Song and Dance: This one gets some bolstering from the cutting-edge animation and well-chosen cast. Wood does well emphasizing Mumble's sweet and curious sides, while Williams is very "on" as the laid-back Lovelace, who thinks the six-pack he got caught in grants him special powers. Listen for the late Steve "Crocodile Hunter" Irwin in one of his last films as the voice of Trev the Elephant Seal. The dance numbers are a blast to watch, and you'll probably learn more than you ever wanted to know about how three different penguin species live and attract a mate.

Favorite Number: Jackman does his best Elvis for the opening, matching his aching "Heartbreak Hotel" to Kidman's playful version of the Prince dance jam "Kiss." Little Mumble gets a darn good dance routine going to "The Joker" by the Steve Miller Band and "Everything I Own" by David Gates. Murphy's "Somebody to Love" when she's trying to choose between suitors isn't bad, either. She finally matches Mumble's awesome moves with the disco classic "Boogie Wonderland." K.D Lang sneaks a lovely version of the Beatles' "Golden Slumbers/The End" in, appropriately towards the end of the film when Mumble returns to the rookery. 

Trivia: Originally, Steve Irwin also voiced an albatross who encounters a blue whale, but that scene was cut from the final film. (It is included on the DVD and Blu-Rays.) 

What I Don't Like: For all the fancy animation and up-to-date cast, the story isn't anything you haven't seen before. It plays as a CGI Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer that suddenly veers into Ferngully: The Last Rainforest territory for the last half-hour. To give it credit, it does come off as less preachy than Ferngully, but it's still pretty obvious that the environmental slant was a last-minute addition. The motion capture works great on the penguins and their slick moves...but not-so-well on the humans, who look creepy and even a little too real.

The Big Finale: This charming jukebox musical is worth checking out for families with kids who love animals or big dance routines.

Home Media: Out of print on solo disc, but it can be found bundled with its sequel and is available for streaming from Amazon Prime and HBO Max.