Happy Feet Two
What It Is
When last we saw Mumble the Emperor penguin (voiced by Elijah Wood), he was at long last feeling accepted by his multiculti peers in Antarctica, and also feeling rather sanguine about his difference from those peers. Having learned that his love of dancing actually made him special as well as beloved, Mumble was happy at the end of Happy Feet. Now, five years later, comes Happy Feet Two and, while Mumble is still happy, now his son Erik (Ava Acres) is feeling left out.
Erik’s source of anxiety is rather the opposite of his dad’s. While his dad dances and his mom Gloria (Pink) sings, the little guy is tripping over his own feet and unsure of his voice. It helps that he has a couple of “diverse” friends, the apparently “black” Atticus (Benjamin Flores, Jr.) and the audibly “British” Bo (Meibh Campbell), who stick with him even when he’s feeling sad and alone.
But still, Erik thinks he’ll be happier elsewhere, and so he and his pals follow Ramon (Robin Williams) to another penguin area, this one kind of blandly rasta and kind of worshipping the Mighty Sven (Hank Azaria), who’s sold himself to the masses as a flying penguin (it’s not hard to see that he’s not actually a penguin, but the other penguins don’t see it). He’s also got a mantra, “If you will it, it will be yours,” a creepily cult-ish line that little Erik wants to believe (he’s especially keen on flying.)
This storyline, taking Erik on a path to community and commitment, is sidetracked repeatedly, as Mumble retrieves him from the chanting penguins and they head home (with Atticus and Bo). They meet an elephant seal with an Aussie accent, Bryan the Beachmaster (Richard Carter), which delays them just long enough to miss the global warming effect that leaves the original penguin community trapped. The rest of the movie follows Mumble and Erik’s efforts to feed and then free the others, at one time helped by Sven and his crew, at another by the seal.
Perhaps the most remarkable plot point in all this is how quickly the penguins and seals and other land-bound creatures are able to waddle themselves from location to location.
Why It’s Fun
The penguins are still cute, the other creatures still a little menacing, as whales and bears tend to like to eat the creatures who are lower along the food chain. Among these are the stars of this film’s secondary plot, another quest for identity shaped like a journey. These are the krills named Will (Brad Pitt) and Bill (Matt Damon). When Will decides to strike out on his own, to find himself apart from the swarming orange mass that typifies krill existence, his best buddy Bill tags along.
With these two teeny sea critters, the film has real fun. Not only are Pitt and Damon charming and strange and comedic in the roles (lots of back-and-forthing, á la Abbott and Costello), but the 3D animation is also clever. This especially compared to the mundane rendering of the main characters. The krills repeatedly swim toward the front of the frame, as they express their advancing ambitions (“The world is changing, Bill, we’ve got to get on the ride!”, “I’m moving up the food chain, I’m going to munch on something that has a face!”) or pose existential questions (“Who am I?”).
The film deploys predictably generic pop songs and ballads: Common (as Seymour) raps about two lines, Pink sings “Bridge of Light,” a tune that sounds like it’s trying too hard to be “Circle of Life”), and the gang sings a very up-tempo “Do Your Thing.” But the music is also odd. The elephant seal posse, tromping across the tundra with Bryan the Beachmaster while singing “Rawhide,” and Erik, out of the blue, extols his dad’s heroism by belting out “E Lucevan Le Stelle” aria from Puccini’s Tosca. “Surreal” doesn’t begin to describe it.
Who’s Going To Love It
Some fans of the first film may be happy to see animated penguins dancing and singing again. Some others may be disappointed by the scattered nature of this plot, the many detours and the slow pace.
The animation is serviceable, but the characters are so disconnected for most of the movie that it often becomes a series of icy landscapes with animals traipsing through.
What To Be Aware Of
During a nervous moment, Erik pees: he happens to be buried in the snow, so the pee flies up and embarrasses him: all the other penguins laugh at him. A mortifying moment that might be asking young viewers to take glee in the poor kid’s misfortune — until it asks those same viewers to feel badly for laughing at him.
Some very mild language and name-calling includes “sucks,” “kelp sucker,” and “dufus.”
A couple of scary moments: one has Bryan the Beachmaster falling into an icy crevice while his two children are left on a cliff above. As they call after daddy, hoping he’s okay, he suggests they be good and head home. Now the pups (and young viewers) are contemplating a potentially dying father. The pups’ lips tremble and their eyes get wide. Luckily Mumble steps up to save him.
Another scary scene involves Mumble being pursued by a fierce sea lion in water, so the chase is speedy, in dark water filled with obstacles, with a pulsing soundtrack designed to create anxiety.
The film also makes clear a save-the-planet message, taking aim at global warming and also at humans who don’t quite commit to the cause. A ship full of do-gooders rescue Sven from an oil spill (the film shows them washing oil off him, imagery that will be familiar who watched the BP oil spill footage), then also attempt to save the penguins from their icy trap, until the weather turns, at which point they run off without looking back.
4 out of 10
Happy Feet Two
Director: George Miller
Cast: Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, Robin Williams, Elijah Wood, Common, Pink
Studio: Warner Bros.
US Premiere: November 18, 2011
UK Premiere: August 10, 2011