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Film case study - Happy Feet

Rating changed

Complaints lead to rating change from G to PG.

The Classification Office received complaints about the G rating of Happy Feet from members of the public. On 15 January 2007, the Chief Censor directed the Secretary for Internal Affairs to obtain and submit a copy of the film to the Office of Film and Literature Classification to be classified.

The plot

This children's film tells the story of an unusual penguin.

Happy Feet is an animated film. Its story centres around a young emperor penguin named Mumble who is different from the rest of his community because they all sing to express themselves and to find a mate while he has a poor singing voice and dances instead. He is shunned and blamed for the lack of fish supplies which threatens the community with starvation. He is driven out by the elders and goes in search of humans whom he believes have found the answer to the food shortage.

Happy Feet was very popular and won the 2007 Academy Award for Best Animated Film. The main characters are voiced by well known Hollywood actors. Like many other children's animated films, the characters are anthropomorphised animals and birds meaning their behaviour, speech, emotions and motivations are all those of humans.

Happy Feet's G rating in New Zealand occurred through the process of cross-rating unrestricted films with the rating given by the Australian Classification Board. However, the film was rated PG in its country of origin and the equivalent of PG in Ontario, Singapore, Switzerland and the Netherlands for its scenes of danger and sexual innuendo.

Find out more about the cross-rating process

In deciding to call the film in to be examined by the Classification Office, the Chief Censor stated that:

A member of the public has complained about the film's G rating and absence of descriptive note to the Classification Office. I am consequently concerned that the rating assigned to this film may not accurately reflect its content under New Zealand law.


The Classification Office received two complaints from members of the public who had taken children to see Happy Feet and felt that the G rating was not appropriate as their children were very frightened by the film.

'G' rating it may be, suitable for all ages it most definitely is not. I do not consider my grandchildren overly sensitive kids and have heard from other mothers that they have left the same movie also. Warnings often accompany an adult movie about bad language, sex, violence, etc. I would suggest that some-one needs to have a look at the standard for rating kids movies and whether a warning needs to be attached to some of these for a younger audience.

Email from complainant

Going to the cinema is a huge treat in my house, and I am careful to only go to something I am sure is going to be suitable for my son. I therefore rely on the rating system, the previews, the advertising and where possible feedback... all the advertising and previews had led me and my son to believe this would be a fun movie. I feel completely misled and betrayed by the advertising and the 'G' rating applied to this film.

Email from complainant

Classification considerations

Some scenes are very likely to scare young children.

Two scenes in the film where the main character, Mumble, is threatened, are likely to frighten young children. At one point in the film, Mumble is attacked by a leopard seal who chases him through the water snapping at him with huge jaws full of sharp teeth. Later in the film, killer whales threaten Mumble's life. In the New Zealand Classification Office decision, these scenes are described as:

...two particularly frightening sequences which create the same sudden fright, increase of tension and release of tension in the viewer as can be found in countless horror movies.

Happy Feet has content aimed at an adult audience.

There are several low-level verbal references of a sexual nature. However these are not likely to be understood by young children and are most likely included to help make the film interesting for adults.

There are also images that are frightening and disturbing due to their sudden impact and the threat of violence to central and sympathetic characters. The Classification Office determined that these aspects of the film were likely to disturb and upset very young children.

Classification Office decision

The Classification Office changed the rating from G to PG.

In its decision, the Classification Office determined that the film was intended for a wide audience and was designed to amuse both adults and children alike. Some of the messages in the feature were likely to be confusing for younger children and may require parental guidance.

The Office classified the film as unrestricted with parental guidance recommended for younger viewers (PG), with the descriptive note 'some scenes may scare very young children'.

Classification Office decision for the PG classification of Happy Feet (PDF, 120KB)

Other film case studies

Happy Feet poster

...ends up in an Orwellian nightmare involving scientists and a zoo (the tots at the preview screening went silent, either out of confusion or horror).

Josh Larsen, Chicago Sun

Useful links

Stills from the film

A still image from the film of a young emperor penguin - Mumble - happily standing in the snow, with hundreds of other penguins in the distance behind him
Mumble, a young emperor penguin and the star of Happy Feet
A still image from the film of an emperor penguin looking at an egg that has fallen onto the snow
Mumble's dad Memphis accidentally drops the egg before Mumble is hatched
A still image from the film of a leopard seal with its mouth open, revealing terrifying teeth
The terrifying leopard seal
A still image from the film of a rockhopper penguin with the plastic rings of a six pack entangled around his neck
Mumble's friend Lovelace, a rockhopper penguin
A still image from the film of emperor penguins dancing in formation
The film features dancing penguins


PG classification label
PG: some scenes may scare very young children


A system of rating unrestricted films where the unrestricted classification from Australia or the UK is given to unrestricted (G, PG, or M) films in New Zealand.
A consumer advice statement given for films and DVDs by the Film and Video Labelling Body: G, PG, or M. Ratings can be overturned by classification decisions from the Office of Film and Literature Classification.