There must be a massive sigh of relief resounding from the production offices of Kennedy/Miller. George Miller’s animated penguin epic Happy Feet – four years in the making and believed to have cost more than US$150 million – has taken out top box office honours in the US for a second consecutive bringing its total earnings to a cool US$99.5 million.

With a top line cast of Australian voice talent – Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman and Hugo Weaving alongside the likes of Robin Williams, Elijah Wood and Brittany Murphy – the film was co-written by Miller and John Collee, former Castanet Club entertainer Warren Coleman and actor/writer/director Judy Morris.

Anxieties were running high prior to the film’s release – not only had Village Roadshow and Warner Bros. gambled a hundred million dollars plus in an already saturated animation market, Sydney based production partners Animal Logic made the leap from FX vendor to become a Pixar-like production house, a move that many industry insiders believed could cost the company its very existence. But with a US$41.8 million box office take on its first weekend, Happy Feet went in at number one ahead of both Casino Royale and Borat.

The plot of the film has been embargoed until Happy Feet’s official release in Australia on December 26 (if you can’t wait, you can get a preview here) but we can tell you that the film – the story of unfeasibly cute dancing penguins – carries some highly relevant themes of cultural isolation and conformity with an ecological message.

Despite its many positive reviews in the US, it’s this last point that has got segments of the political Right riled up. IMDB Studio News reported last week that Fox News host Neil Cavuto lambasted Happy Feet as “big time objectionable” and “like an animated Inconvenient Truth” with a hidden agenda of “far left” politics.

Fox News film critic Holly McCure also claimed the film contained negative portrayals of marine aquariums and water parks and “that they were intended to make parents feel guilty about taking their kids to them.” Like March of the Penguins – which it was claimed carried a pro-life, pro-family message – it seems that a movie about a dancing penguin isn’t just a film about a dancing penguin.

Peter Fray

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