The major action takes place in an Emperor penguin colony. Leave your logical faculties at the door, since, even using cartoon logic a lot of the movie makes no sense, relying on easy stereotying for laughs, particularly in the area of accents. The Emperor penguins talk "American" mostly, although "Memphis" (Hugh Jackman chanelling Elvis) has a Southern accent, and Elder Noah (Hugo Weaving) has the voice of an old Scots Calvinist minister. Weaving's vocal styling is for characterization, but there's really no plot reason for Memphis to be Elvis and his mate "Norma Jean" to be Marilyn Monroe (mimiced by Nicole Kidman). The Adelaide penguins (lead by Robin Williams) have Chicano accents (perhaps supposed to be Chilean?), the Elephant Seals (cameo by the late Steve Irwin) have Australian accents, and the villainous skuas talk like Jersey "goodfellas" evidently just because they are thugs.
Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood)is 'different' supposedly because of a pre-birth accident--his father dropped his egg. Consequently, he has no singing voice and in some other ways delayed in development: he retains part of his juvenile plumage throughout the film. Instead, he has the urge to tap dance, which no other penguin has ever done. This eventually makes him a literal outcast, which again is rather illogical. Other penguins DO dance--or at least do a kind of
rhythmic movement of the sort singing groups used to do before it became mandatory to have major production numbers ala Prince and Madonna. Nevertheless, the dour elders fear that Mumble's style of joyous dance shows signs of catching on, and he is banished.
This is where the movie got interesting from my point of view. Sure, it moved from a fairly trite schoolyard fish-out-of-water plot to a fairly trite quest plot, but I like quest plots better, so things got more interesting as Mumble decides to seek out the mysterious "aliens" who may be interfering with the penguins' fish supply. I won't give away more details, but along the way, Frodo--er, Mumble--aquires companions, avoids dangers, and meets the "aliens". Eventually he returns home a hero. (There is one shot where the party is rounding a mountain ledge that is borrowed right from the "Fellowship of the Ring" movie.)
Frustrating things include the choice of music. There are no orginal songs, instead apparently penguin musical sensibilty runs to '50's and 60's American pre-rock, which results in some odd juxtapositions. Why shoud the the penguin choir croon "In My Room" when none of them have ever seen a room, and live in a society that has no privacy?
Also, I thought the dancing just didn't work that well. Even with motion capture of "the world's greatest living tap dancer" Savion Glover, (who for some reason accepted a barely detectable credit as "motion capture dancer") the greatness just didn't translate for me.
All in all, the movie is a decent story with good values, and can be genuinely heart-warming, particularly Mumble's reunion with his guilt-ridden father. Quite suitable for children, with no bad language or sex, and not even much violence. The most intense scene is Mumble's close encounter with a hungry Leopard Seal, and that's more thrilling than scary. Not bad at all, just not a great movie. What somewhat frustrates me is that it blew away "Flushed Away" (reviewed below) at the box office, which was a much cleverer movie in every way.