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Happy Feet cover

Blu-ray Reviews: Happy Feet

Originally published in Australian HI-FI, Jan/Feb 2009, v.40#1
Last updated 27 June 2009

Happy Feet
2006 - Roadshow Entertainment
Director: George Miller/Warren Coleman/Judy Morris
Starring: Elijah Wood, Brittany Murphy, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Robin Williams and Hugo Weaving

Movie: 2.5 Picture: 4.5 Sound: 4 Extras: 3

Happy Feet is one weird movie. It deals with an outsider -- in this case a young Emperor Penguin (Elijah Wood) -- who can't sing like all the other penguins, but tap dances instead. He eventually comes to be blamed by the stereotypically Calvinist leader of the colony (Hugo Weaving) to be the cause of a fish shortage because of his differences.

Rejected by his father (Hugh Jackman, doing an Elvis impersonation) and only feebly defended by his mother (Nicole Kidman, doing Marilyn Monroe), he goes off to find the 'aliens' who he believes to be the true culprits.

The aliens are, of course, nasty, nasty old humanity. Do not look to be satisfied by the plot. The G rating is inappropriate. The Australian censors tend to be kinder to local movies (it was an Australian/US co-production) than to foreign movies. In the US it is PG. In New Zealand it started as G and then was re-rated to PG. There are some dark themes and genuinely scary characters in this movie that may worry small children.

Except for a few people scenes at the end, the whole thing is CGI. And it is truly eye candy. Blu-ray discs support up to 25GB on a single layer. This disc uses just 13.92GB. Yet it is hard to see how the VC1 encode could benefit from more bits. Even though most of backgrounds are snowy white on snowy white, there is no white crushing. The detail is immaculate.

It is also ear candy. This is a musical, but not in the sense of having a dozen big numbers spread over the movie. It is more that much of the movie consists of extensive medleys of modern pop music, mostly from the 60s, 70s and 80s. The credits at the end list 42 songs!

In between times there is some astoundingly powerful and deep bass during the action scenes, and great surround work from the Dolby Digital EX 6.1 sound track. The HD DVD version, which was never released in Australia, apparently had a losslessly compressed track which at least one reviewer claims was better. But the 640kbps adds 40% more bits compared to the maximum of 448kbps on DVD, and with lossy compression that makes a huge difference.

Running time: 109 minutes
Picture: 2.35:1, 1080p24, VC1 @ 13.07Mbps
Sound: English, French, Spanish: Dolby Digital EX 3/2.1 @ 640kbps
Subtitles: English, English for the Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Extras: Two Additional Footage segments (1080p24, VC1, DD5.1 @ 448kbps - 4 mins); Trailer (480i60, MPEG2, DD2.0 @ 192kbps - 1 min); Two Music Videos (480i60, MPEG2, DD2.0 @ 192kbps - 6 mins); Warner Bros Cartoon: 'I Love To Singa' - 1936 (480i60, MPEG2, DD2.0 @ 192kbps - 8 mins); Dance Lesson with Savion Glover: 'Dance Like a Penguin: Stomp to the Beat' (480i60, MPEG2, DD2.0 @ 192kbps - 5 mins)
Restrictions: Rated G (Australian rating); Region Free

This is the video bitrate graph for this movie, generated by BDInfo 0.5.2:

Happy Feet video bitrate graph

Comparison: Blu-ray vs PAL DVD

Here are some comparisons between the PAL DVD and the Blu-ray version of this movie. Both the DVD and the Blu-ray versions were from discs provided to me by Roadshow Entertainment.

In the following examples, at the top of each is the full frame (suitably shrunk down) used in the comparison, with a 250 pixel wide detail from the frame underneath. The left side is from the PAL DVD. The image was captured digitally from the disc, scaled up from its native 720 by 576 resolution to 1,024 by 576 (to present in the 16:9 aspect ratio), and then, in order to be comparable to the Blu-ray version, from that to 1,920 by 1,080. The detail is from that last scaled version, and has not been rescaled again. The right side is from the Australian Blu-ray. This has not been scaled at all.

The detail is from that last scaled version, and has not been rescaled again. The right side is from the Australian Blu-ray. This has not been scaled at all. Different applications were used to capture the two frames, so I am not comfortable comparing the colour between the two, merely the detail and sharpness. For visitors from NTSC lands, generally the PAL DVD is just a touch sharper than the NTSC DVD.

Comparison 1

Comparison 2

Comparison 3

Comparison 4

Comparison 5

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