I’ve got to admit, the first Happy Feet took me by surprise. Penguins- been there done that. Musicals- been there, don’t need to do that again. Environmentalism agendas – am there, hate that! Yet still the film left me surprised for its ability to tell a moving, charming tale of the interaction between humanity and nature. The characters were easy to care about; the tension was real and the pacing was flawless. Naturally when I heard a sequel had been made in 2011 that featured a majority of the same vocal talent (with some powerhouse additions), had $130-million budged (up $30-mil over the first one) and was again written & directed by George Miller, I was naturally interested in continuing with the tale.
I suppose I should start with the good news: This isn’t a copy/paste rehash of the first film. The bad news: This isn’t a copy/paste rehash of the first film. While it’s true this one probably looked decent on paper (swooping panoramic shots of masses of dancing penguins, near photo-realistic textures and animal models, a new secondary story thread following a pair of existentially obsessed krill and so on), the problem this time around has everything to do with pacing and plot structure but more on that in a bit.
The film comes in at a runtime of 100-minutes and wears a PG rating for some animated hijinks, little tension and mild rude humor. The cast is pretty tight again (though slightly different this time around): Elijah Wood returns as Mumble, P!nk replaces the late Brittany Murphy as Gloria, Robin Williams is back pulling double duty as Ramon/ Lovelace, and Hugo Weaving returns as the village elder. Mumble’s parents (Memphis played by Hugh Jackman and Norma Jean/ Nicole Kidman) are nowhere to be found this time but Brad Pitt and Matt Damon were brought on board as Will and Bill the Krill respectively.
The story, or what passes for one here, opens with our main couple having birthed a young penguin named Erik, who, like his father before him, doesn’t seem to have the natural gift for singing. Unlike his pops, however, Erik lacks to rhythm to tap dance his way into hero-status. Faced with childhood humiliation and parental crises of a confidence-less kid, the story begins to look a little predictable.
However things quickly take a turn for the bizarre when little Erik and his pals venture off to the neighboring community of Adelie penguins where they encounter The Mighty Sven, a Tufted Puffin (bird) apparently mistaken as a flying penguin by the Adelies. Dispensing generic advice by the boatload through a bit of an over-the-top accent by Hank Azaria, Sven becomes Erik’s new role model (not to mention convinces many a penguin that the ability to fly is simply a matter of believing in themselves). Amidst all this we follow two krill who leave the safety and security of the only swarm they’ve ever known to discover the vast world beyond.
Long story short- Erik discovers that even though he can’t dance or fly, he can achieve greatness by believing in himself right? Wrong! The real core of the story here works off the premise that a massive iceberg crashes into the ice floe home of the emperor penguins, trapping the lot of them in a valley. This time the story is a rescue operation rather than a tale of character growth; and there’s nothing wrong with that when done correctly.
The trouble here is the pacing is pretty messy. Disasters just keep unfolding out of nowhere only to be overcome just in time for the next one. Never is there a sense of a strong backstory or valuable lesson present so much as a successive collection of sweeping scenes. The singing/ dancing element is certainly more stale (and overused) this time around as well.
The environmentalist cues oft-complained about in the first film are back, though admittedly not quite so “in your face” as say Lovelace with a 6-pack holder cutting off his oxygen, prepare for a fair share of global warming references, segments of oil spills and even some odd live-footage splices of turkeys being stuffed and chickens rotating on a rotisserie. However, and to the film’s credit, they do try to redeem mankind by depicting us as trying to help build a way out for the stranded penguins as well as cleaning up the oil-soaked animals.
In all, Happy Feet Two meanders around and pokes at some pretty interesting concepts but never really flushes any of them out by the film’s conclusion. Perhaps its biggest crime however happens to be that it never establishes the type of connection that makes you really concerned for the characters. Watchable for sure, and kids will likely be entertained by the beautiful visuals and dancing, but it’s the nuances adults will notice that keep it from filling the happy shoes of the original.
Issues of the world do not belong in kids’ movies, bottom line. That’s why Happy Feet took a smug turn, by cutting down on the Al Gore made Happy Feet Two a better experience, but with a plot that seemed a little rushed, too cute for words penguins and a side splitting side story, this one ended in a draw. It wasn’t the best movie of 2011, but it wasn’t excruciating. This time around the focus is on what it’s like to be the outcast … more
Star Rating: Like its predecessor, Happy Feet Two succeeds by reaching beyond the expectations of an animated family comedy. It’s not that there’s music; it’s that the music is expertly orchestrated and perfectly in sync with the visuals. It’s not that there’s singing and dancing; it’s that both are handled with the care and precision of a professional stage production, and that they’re done on a scale large enough that … more