I saw this last weekend at a special screening and was suitably impressed. Although I'm a big fan of George Miller's films, I was very hesitant to see this one. I'm not a big fan of animated films, much less musicals. The trailers looked awful and indicated nothing about the story. Until the screening came up, I had no intention of seeing this on the big screen. After the opening musical number, the movie quickly won me over. The way it's made is incredibly cinematic, and, at its heart, tells a great mythic story: an outcast leaves his community and journeys to the edge of the world to find a way to end the famine that's plaguing his species. Along this quest, our hero, Mumble, learns to live with his outsider status (he can't sing) and makes use of his own particular gift (tap dancing). It's a simple story that's told in a very creative way with a lot of heart.
The musical numbers, instead of having a disrupting effect and stopping the flow of the story, actually advance the plot because they're integral to the story and this particular type of penguin. Emperor Penguins apparently find their mates by singing. While it all sounds the same to us, they are highly attuned to each others songs. The film cleverly translates that idea to the screen by having these animated penguins sing iconic pop/rock songs.
I thought the animation was top notch and the style perfectly suited for the story. This isn't the goofy cartoonish animation seen in this past year's other animal-oriented films. It's very rich and leaning heavily towards realism. The vast icy landscapes seem to be copied straight from documentary footage. Just jaw-droppingly beautiful.
There's one shot in the film which really epitomizes how well made it is and made me love it that much more. Mumble, his four friends, and the old wise mentor (Lovelace) are heading to the edge of the world as they know it. They're caught in a snow blizzard. The six penguins are shown in almost a dark silhouette as they struggle to move forward. The fading red light of the sun provides faint illumination. As the penguins are pushed back by the blizzard, they lean into the wind and keep going. It's almost like something out of a Kurosawa movie. And that's all it is. Just one shot of the blizzard. But it's beautifully done. Never seen anything like it in an animated film.
By the end of the film, my initial reservations about the film were completely washed away. Disregard the lame trailers and see it for yourself.