Whenever a new animated children’s movie comes out, my mom and I always make a point to see it together.

She gets to pretend I’m 8 years old again, and I get to watch funny little cartoon critters on screen without having to explain myself to my bar-aged, meathead friends. It’s really a win-win situation.

The best part about our movie trips is that there’s usually no way we’ll leave the theater disappointed.

Ever since “Toy Story,” movie producers have essentially fine-tuned the animated children’s comedy formula to perfection — just lead a mismatched, rag-tag group of talking creatures through a simple, goal-driven plot, littering their journey with stupid characters and sight gags for the kids and witty, more subtle grown-up dialogue for the parents (and their 22-year-old sons). Toss in some pop culture references and you have yourself a movie.

And every time my mom and I see one, we leave the theater laughing. I repeat my favorite dumb jokes, she recites the antics of one of the hilarious side characters, like the crazy squirrels in both “Ice Age” and “Over the Hedge,” and everyone walks away happy.

These movies just always deliver. From “Monsters, Inc.” to “The Incredibles” to “Finding Nemo,” not one animated children’s comedy has ever left us disappointed.

Except “Happy Feet,” which both my mom and I thought sucked.

We couldn’t believe it. How could the producers blow this movie? In the world of cartoon cinema, this should have been a virtual gimme.

First of all, you can’t find a more perfect animal than penguins for an animated children’s movie.

They’re family-oriented, funny-looking and — as anyone who’s ever seen “March of the Penguins” knows — have migrating and feeding habits that are perfect for teaching lessons about overcoming obstacles.

And thanks to Morgan Freeman’s triumphant narration in “March of the Penguins,” every family in America was going to see this movie already knowing and loving penguins.

There was just no way “Happy Feet” could suck — the set-up was too perfect.

But it did. And it sucked because the producers got their heads stuck up their asses and tried to change the world instead of making just a nice, simple, funny children’s movie.

What they did was make “Happy Feet” blatantly political, even including digitalized shots of the United Nations and political protests in one of the ending montages, and completely tanked a movie that was spiraling downward from the start.

I’m all for saving penguins and teaching kids to be environmentally conscious. But keep the message simple and don’t scare and/or confuse me with it. I’m there to enjoy a movie, not to watch a PETA propaganda film.

The sad part is, I’m not even sure what “Happy Feet” was trying to teach us.

In the movie, viewers learn how humans are slowly killing all the penguins in Antarctica by eating their fish, polluting their waters and trashing their home. Zoos are also bad since they made our little penguin buddy Mumble go insane.

Now, that’s all fine. Even though I think zoos are a great way to teach kids about animals and the importance of conservation and am against making them hate a popular field trip destination, whatever — if that’s the message the producers want to go with, run with it. Just don’t confuse the message by having Mumble return home with a huge radar gizmo strapped to his back, talking about how great the “alien” humans are, and then have us come swarming back into the same Antarctic habitat we trashed earlier and deserted.

And I’m not even sure that humans saved the day — all I know is that we came back to Antarctica, videotaped dancing penguins, put them on the news and got the United Nations all riled up.

I didn’t get it. My mom didn’t get it. And the 7-year-old girl sitting next to me begging her mom for a Juicy Juice definitely didn’t get it. Needless to say, we all left the theater confused and pissed.

What’s even worse is that amid all the environmental propaganda, the seemingly obvious moral of “Happy Feet” gets lost.

This was supposed to be a nice, simple story about an outcast, misfit penguin who shows us that even though we might be different, we’re all special.

Unlike the rest of the emperor penguins, Mumble can’t sing. He can dance like hell, but he can’t sing, which is too bad because all the other penguins attract their mates through singing. He also has a crush on his friend Gloria, who represents the typical girl we all knew in high school — you know, the really hot girl every guy was after who becomes best friends with the school’s biggest loser.

Anyway, things aren’t looking up for Mumble, and to top it off, he’s still sporting his puberty fuzz and thinks aliens are invading Antarctica and causing the fish shortage that everyone’s worried about. Eventually Mumble’s blasphemous dancing and alien talk gets him booted from the penguin clan.

So, at this point, you think you’re going to get the typical, “misfit-saves-the-day-with-unique-ability-everybody-hates,” Rudolph-like story. Instead, it’s at about this time that “Happy Feet” starts up with its environmental spiel and everything hits the fan.

Mumble finds new penguin friends, goes on a trek through Antarctica, gets locked up in a zoo and goes insane. All of a sudden you realize you’re nearly two hours into a kids’ movie and there’s no ending in sight.

Which is really one of the movie’s biggest problems: There’s just too much going on.

Above all else, kids’ movies need to be simple, and they need to be relatively short. But thinking back on the plot of “Happy Feet” is kind of like thinking back on the plot of “The Godfather,” and that just can’t happen in a kid’s movie.

Ultimately, “Happy Feet” breaks almost every important rule for children’s animated movies laid out since “Toy Story.” It was long, complicated and didn’t have a clear lesson. As a result, they somehow managed to make dancing cartoon penguins unlikable.

I need a Juicy Juice.

Grade: 0 out of 5