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There’s little rhyme or reason to anything in the “Happy Feet” universe. If it sings, dances, looks cute and enhances ethnic diversity, it flies. Except penguins of course — penguins can’t fly, everyone knows that. But that doesn’t mean they can’t creatively problem solve through self-determination, tap-dancing and passionate arias. Okay, so nothing makes sense about Happy Feet Two, but only a cold soul needs rationalization for adorable singing penguins.
Five years after the original, Happy Feet Two requires no previous knowledge of the original, though it couldn’t hurt to be aware that it features penguins apt to break out into any song popular in 2008 or earlier. Mumble (Elijah Wood) has grown up and now has his own social outcast son with no sense of rhythm, Erik (Ava Acres). After the opening dance number ends in embarrassment, Erik and friends Bo and Atticus leave their emperor penguin tribe and head to the tribe of Latino penguins with the silly Ramon (Robin Williams). There they discover Sven (Hank Azaria), the famous flying penguin. When Mumble finds the runaways, they head back home to discover a giant iceberg has trapped their friends and family, effectively cutting off their food supply.
The movie’s main subplot, the story of two krill who leave their swarm voiced by Brad Pitt and Matt Damon, far and away steals the spotlight. The two are hilarious and the writing insanely witty as Will (Pitt) suffers an existential crisis when he realizes he’s one of a “krillion” bottom-feeders in a huge ocean. He then drags his reluctant friend Bill (Damon) on a quest to defy the food chain, which tests the limits of their friendship/subliminal domestic partnership. If only the rest of the script could be as clever and snappy rather than leaning on Williams’ voice talents for laughs.
As those who’ve seen the original might remember, real live-action humans are once again involved in this film. These “aliens,” as the penguins call them, had “captured” Sven and head honcho penguin Lovelace on an oil rig and Lovelace sings some boisterous recitative as to how they escaped. Later on, Lovelace gets the attention of a fishing boat and some human dude comes out to play an electric guitar solo to “We Are the Champions.” Lovelace’s “plan” works, as the humans try and rescue the penguins, but they abandon them when a blizzard roles through. Once again, “humans suck and continuously destroy the natural order of things” remains part of director/creator George Miller’s message.
It would be safe to say after two “Happy Feet” movies that Miller has a hippie liberal quasi-socialist agenda. After Sven proves he’s not what he seems and the flight-determined penguins back off their dream of the impossible, especially poor little Erik, it turns out that the only way they can save these trapped penguins is to generate some karma and solicit the help of other penguin tribes, then all the other species of Antarctica, namely elephant seals, must give of themselves a bit to benefit the whole continent. Meanwhile, it’s clear that global warming is the real cause of the problems, but the film never comes out and says it. Brainwashing? Quite possibly.
The musical numbers in the film range from fun and catchy to random chaos and so do their positioning within the film. During the final act, the penguins and others manage to sing techno hit “Dragostea Din Tei,” as well as “Rawhide” and finally “Under Pressure.” It’s like a non-cohesive Glee episode with penguins. Mix the humans into some of the numbers and you might regret not bringing your hallucinogens to the theater.
Visually, the film retains the original’s distinctive style of realism with cartoonish features, but it’s not nearly as breathtaking as it was back in 2006 as most studios have caught up. Some of the ocean sequences might have been interesting to see in 3D just to see if its that layered depth-of-field kind of 3D and not just the playing to the audience 3D (which there’s plenty of).
Miller, the writers and the animation team created knew full well that regardless of whether they had an even remotely interesting story, they could cover up just about anything with cute baby animals and singing/dancing. Sadly, naturally or however you feel about it, they’re right. The cuteness can’t completely disguise the lack of good storytelling, but it does act as a great equalizer. If you find yourself unable to articulate this feathery exercise in musical chairs to others, Warner Bros. will happily give you license to say “cute” free or charge.
Happy Feet Two
Directed by George Miller
Written by George Miller, Warren Coleman, Gary Eck, Paul Livingston
Starring: (voices) Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, Pink, Ava Acres, Hank Azaria