Counting Down the Best Films of 2006: No. 10, Happy Feet

WHY IS THIS ONE OF THE BEST FILMS OF THE YEAR?: C'mon, dancing baby penguins? You'd have to have a heart of stone not to find yourself wrapped up in delicious warm fuzzies by this movie. Cute overload!

NO, SERIOUSLY, WHY?: Okay, managing to be this exceptionally cute without descending into goopy sentimentality would have been enough to praise the flick, but even better: it manages to meld cute with a deadly serious purpose. It dares us to love the cute so much that we'd be willing to sacrifice something ourselves to save it ... or at least it dares us to confront the fact that we might not be willing to save the cute at any cost. Director and writer (with Warren Coleman, John Collee, and Judy Morris) George Miller has almost -- almost -- made a kind of thematic prequel here to his 1979 masterpiece Mad Max: it's the prelude to an apocalypse, but it's not too late to prevent it. But only if we're capable of making a tough change to our culture, just like the penguins finally manage here.

DAMNED HOLLYWOOD LIBERALS, WHY CAN'T THEY JUST KEEP THEIR WACKY PAGAN EARTH-HUGGING OUT OF THE MOVIES?: It's true that climate scientists have assured us that anyone to the right of Jane Fonda will not experience any negative effects from global warming, and that liberals are only being greedy, selfish planetary party poopers. But on the off chance that the egghead scientists are wrong, and we do all have to alter not just our individual behavior but our relationship, as a species, to the planet as a whole, new modes of thought will be required of our culture. Happy Feet is way ahead of its time -- we will, I predict, see many, many more stories about this new human paradigm in the coming years. And the really brilliant thing about Happy Feet is that it does not want to bum us out: it finds joy in the hard but laudable task of changing long-held ways of thinking, and wisdom in the knowledge that figurative houses that are knocked down can be rebuilt better, stronger, and more resilient. Happy Feet doesn't want to scare you -- it wants to encourage you, to ask you to embrace change, not fear it.

[Check out my full review of Happy Feet here.]


MaryAnn Johanson

author of The Totally Geeky Guide to The Princess Bride

minder of

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