Dir: George Miller. US.2006. 98mins.

HappyFeet is one strange bird of an animated movie. Directedby George Miller, who was behind Babe(1995) and its badly-received sequel, it is by turns giddy, maudlin,swinging, narratively overstuffed and artisticallymagnificent as it makes the case - not always in jest - that penguins would havea better chance of survival if they learnt to tap dance.

It would seem primed to domassive business because of its sense of spectacle, environmental message andall those cute penguins. But Happy Feethas a couple of Achilles' heels that may keep it more grounded than its sellingpoints suggest. In particular its lead character Mumble(voiced by Elijah Wood), an outcast young penguin who needs to prove hiscourage, feels somewhat bland and not really the master of his storyline.

As a result, children may notbe able to relate to Mumble as they did similarly-motivatedanimal characters like Simba in The Lion King (1994), which took $784m worldwide, $329 from the US. Happy Feet also struggles to maintain asimilar comic tone and warmth to this year's Ice Age 2 ($646m worldwide, $195m from US), despite the presence ofbig-name comic talent like Robin Williams. But the snowy cartoon should stillplay well in the run-up to Christmas both domestically - it opens in the US on Nov 17 -and overseas.

Certainly Happy Feet will be boosted by the factit is about penguins, currently the animal kingdom's biggest stars, aswitnessed by two of last year's strongest family films: documentary March Of The Penguins, which took $122mworldwide; and Madagascar, whichearned $194m of its $529m global box-office from the US. Ancillary, as withsimilar animated fare, will likely earn more than theatrical.

Happy Feetopens in an emperor penguin colony where the young have to learn to sing tocommunicate with their mates. While young Mumble has a terrible voice, he canat least tap dance like Fred Astaire, to thedisappointment of his Elvis-like dad Memphis (Jackman)and loving mom Norma Jean (Nicole Kidman). His only kindred soul is his friendGloria (Murphy), a great singer.

Mumble is determined toprove his worth to the colony and sets out on a quest, eventually meeting aLatino comedy troupe of smaller mambo-loving penguins led by Ramon (Williams).They worship Lovelace The Guru (also Williams), aheavyset, messily tufted Rockhopper penguin with asexy Barry White-like voice and neck talisman that is really a plastic ringfrom a discarded six-pack.

When Lovelace falls ill,Mumble and crew decide to hunt for the "aliens" who created the ring,eventually encountering Man in a scene conjured from Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.

George Miller here seemsinspired by Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge: at every opportunity,penguins - sometimes thousands at once - break into wild song-and-dance medleysof pop hits like Queen's Somebody To Love, Prince's Kiss,The Steve Miller Band's The Joker andGrandmaster Flash And The Furious Five's TheMessage. Sometimes the film's voice talent does the singing - Nicole Kidmantackles Kiss - on other occasions thesoundtrack features guest singers like Chrissie Hynde.

The tap dancing isexuberantly choreographed by Savion Glover, whose ownsteps were recorded via motion capture, then digitalised.Overall, the gotta-see-it-to-believe-it scenes ofdancing birds are infectiously ecstatic, but they occasionally feel bizarre andthe uneven tone may throw some audiences.

In other escapades Mumbleruns into an elephant seal (voiced by the late Steve Irwin), an encounter thathas shades of a Ray Harryhausen-orchestratedmonster-movie confrontation. There is also an abandoned human settlement - whichfeatures a church on a cliff, a stranded tanker and trash and debris everywhere- that proves somewhat haunting.

The digitalisedanimation is often breathtaking, especially considering that penguins, by theirvery nature, are not that colorful. Sydney-based visual effects house AnimalLogic, working with production designer Mark Sexton and layout/camera directorDavid Peers, has given the birds a detailed,sculptural roundness, although Mumble sometimes feels somewhat emotionless.

Antarctic backgroundsfeature ice shelves, glaciers, icebergs, valleys and mountain ranges and arestunningly panoramic.

Production companies/backers
Kingdom Feature Productions
Kennedy Miller Productions
Roadshow Productions

Worldwide distribution
Warner Bros (most)

Executive producers
Zareh Nalbandian
Graham Burke
Dana Goldberg
Bruce Berman

George Miller
Bill Miller
Matthew Ferro
Doug Mitchell
Martin Wood

Warren Coleman
John Collee
George Miller
Judy Morris
Matt Town
Alicia Gleeson
Christine Cheung
Andrew Corsi
Kento Watanabe
Julietta Boscolo
Matt Villa

Production design
Mark Sexton

John Powell
Christine Woodruff

Main cast (voices)
Elijah Wood
Robin Williams
Hugh Jackman
Nicole Kidman
Hugo Weaving
Anthony LaPaglia