It was definitely not what was expected (cute and funny fluff), but as a big fan of penguins (my company's name is Wicked Penguin :P ) it had a good message and beautiful execution.
There's a saying that applies to this movie: "We have not inherited the Earth from our parents; we are borrowing it from our children." Many children have and are going to see this film, and I'm hoping that they and their parents realize that if things are going to be better in the future, then change needs to start now. I want to know that when I have grandkids many moons in the future, they'll still be able to see the funny flightless birds and the many other threatened species alive and well in their natural habitat.
Some things I liked (Spoilers of course):
- All of the action scenes. They were amazingly shot, often with single cuts that lasted a minute or so at a time. Well choreographed, and really awe-inspiring, the seal chase, the skua fight, and the whale scene really had me on the edge of my seat, thinking "wow, that's cool". The one that ended with the huge ice wall cracking off (revealing the steam shovel) was especially incredible. I play around with Maya 7 for game mod development, but this movie really made me want to just delete Maya from my hard drive, LOL.
- The scene where Mumble escapes from the skuas and jumps into the hole. After they leave, he's lying there alone, crying. That was just... heartbreaking. So cold, so alone, so scared - and no one to protect him, no one who even cared he was missing. I personally think it's on par with the "Mother?" scene from Bambi in creating a sense of despair and loneliness. That one shot really made the movie for me and made me want him to succeed.
- The attention to natural detail. As a big fan of March of the Penguins, it felt as if I was watching an animated version of that. The environmental artists did a phenomenal job of capturing the surprising amount of textures, terrain, and windblown atmospheres that Antarctica can produce. The underwater and sea shots were also incredible. At times it felt as I was watching live-action footage.
- The creature design was quite good. All of the animals were pretty close to being anatomically correct, except for some "cartoon embellishments* (bigger eyes, for instance) but overall looked very close to their natural counterparts. It's a far cry from, say, "Madagascar" where all of the animals were essentially caricatures.
- Showing the natural cruelty of the Orcas/Killer Whales. Everyone associates Orcas with Shamu and cuteness, but in reality they're pretty sadistic creatures who enjoy beating the hell out of their prey for fun. That whole scene where they play ping-pong with the penguins around the frozen buoy gave me a real sense of deja vu from documentaries I've seen elsewhere. Just take a look at this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ORjOmiluonc (notice that the seal in question is still alive throughout).
- The five adelies rocked. They're my favorite penguin species and it was just cool to see the animators have some fun with their characters. And for those who were offended by the "Hispanic stereotypes", I'm Hispanic and live in a predominantly Hispanic city and wasn't offended in the least. They made every scene they were in and injected a lot of warmth and snappy humor.
- The scene in the "Sea World" exhibit gave a (somewhat exagerrated) view on what happens to many animals in captivity. They lose their natural abilities to hunt and surive.
- A different take on the common "be yourself" message. A lot of people here are saying the movie takes an anti-organized religion stance. I disagree. It's broader than that. To me it's message is that blind conformity can be stifling and that it's okay to question things if they hurt or ostracize innocent people. Many religions just happen to be guilty of that. There are of course the messages of tolerance and forgiveness which are always welcome.
Things I didn't like so much:
- The parents' voices annoyed me. I got that they were supposed to be Elvis (Memphis, as in Graceland? :P ) and Marilyn Monroe (Norma Jean) but the mother's breathy voice sounded like she was trying too hard and ticked me off. I did like that detail of the mole on her chest. :P
- The preachy ending. I like the message, but it was delivered a little too over-the-top. No one cares about penguins more than me, but... we get it - penguins need to survive, the world's nations need to regulate fishing, and we all need to get along. But there could have been a better and more subtle way of showing that than flash cuts of the United Nations and its various members arguing. However, it was good in showing that protecting the environment is a global issue that is prone to considerable argument.
- Lack of progression from Mumble's time in captivity to when he arrives back at the rookery. One second he's indoors, the next he's right back home. I would have liked to at least seen a minute or two montage of footage showing how he went from captive to free.
- Some of the pop songs were a bit annoying. "Shake your Bon Bon"...gag.
The Sexual Innuendos:
As far as the sexual innuendos everyone's going on about, get over it. If you're ticked off about your five year old knowing the real lyrics to "Let's talk about *eggs* , Baby" then *you* are the one that should be monitoring their radio or TV-watching. A normal five year old is only going to think they're talking about - you guessed it! - eggs. There are some definite sexual innuendos in the movie, but you'd have to be sexually knowledgable to get them. Some of them kind of pushed the envelope of what you'd normally see in an American animated movie, but none of them were any stronger than Shrek or its kin.
I know someone here mentioned that their kid was staring "wide-eyed at the screen" during the scene where Gloria and Mumble are falling all over each other in various positions. Did you think that maybe they were wide-eyed because the scene was funny, as opposed to your own dirty mind going off? If your 5 year old knows what the doggie-style position looks like and what you're doing while *in* that position, I'd suggest getting a channel blocker on the cable TV in your kid's room.
It's not a perfect movie, but it was definitely more good than bad. My wife and I had a good time watching it. I'll be buying the DVD whenever it comes out.