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The Independent Culture

After The Lion King it's the turn of the emperor penguin to have his own all-singing, all-dancing CGI extravaganza. Until the release of March of the Penguins about this time last year, most of us wouldn't have had a clue about the birthing rituals of these creatures and their extraordinary feats of endurance: who knew that the mothers undertake a four-month footslog through freezing winds to collect the provisions while the males huddle together and keep the eggs warm?

The stirring simplicity of that documentary is notably at odds with this bumptious pop musical about a young penguin, Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood), who has a terrible singing voice but a unique gift for tap-dancing.

Destined to be an outsider, Mumble is blamed for a chronic fish shortage and is ostracised from the community, but he soon finds companionship with a crew of party-loving rockhopper penguins led by a feathered guru with a deep-soul voice (actually that of Robin Williams). Their determination to locate the true cause of the food stock depletion reveals humankind to be the culprit, and the film becomes an eco-homily on the depredations of trawler boats in the Antarctic.

Aside from Williams, the vocal stars are Nicole Kidman channelling Marilyn Monroe as Mumble's mother, and Hugh Jackman doing an Elvis impersonation as his father, though their efforts can't compensate for a shopworn storyline and a musical score that's too mashed-up and frantic to be fun - "Boogie Wonderland" and Stevie Wonder's "I Wish" are among the songs to be cannibalised. The mass choreography is expertly done, but the air of contrivance feels as chill as those Antarctic blizzards.

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