November 18, 2011
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Movie Details: View here
Directed by George Miller
It should come as no surprise that George Miller, a man whose directing highlights range from “Mad Max” to “Lorenzo’s Oil” to “Babe: Pig in the City,” has turned in something some strange, smart and completely unique with “Happy Feet Two.” A follow-up to his own 2006 animated film, the further adventures of Mumble (Elijah Wood) and his penguin compatriots could have easily played as a rehash of its predecessor and, indeed, judging it from its trailer, audiences members will enter expecting exactly that. Instead, “Happy Feet Two” is so off the beaten path that it gives “Rango” strong competition for the year’s most delightfully bizarre animated film.
To those looking for singing and dancing Antarctic creatures, fret not. “Happy Feet Two” should more than adequately deliver the mass-appeal goods, countering Mumble’s adulthood with his new son, Erik (the impossibly adorable voice of Ava Acres) and so many genre-bending covers of pop songs that it would make Baz Luhrmann blush. As in the first film, the CGI is astounding and we’re treated to the same live-action blending when humans show up, making the whole affair feel less like a cartoon and more like the world’s most elaborate puppet show.
Returning cast members also include Robin Williams (who voices Ramon and Lovelace again) and Hugo Weaving with brand-new roles for Sofia Vergara, Hank Azaria and Common. Alecia “P!nk” Moore also steps in, taking over for the late Brittany Murphy in the role of Gloria. Stealing the show, though, are Brad Pitt and Matt Damon as a pair of Krill, Will and Bill whose subplot and constant barrage of groan-worthy puns are worthy of their own feature.
Not unlike the story of the first film, Erik is a young penguin who doesn’t understand his place in the world. He doesn’t dance and seems to have no interest in performing with the rest of his waddle. It’s not until he ventures off and meets a flying penguin, the Mighty Sven (Azaria), that he begins to see his life take focus. Sven, because of his ability, is treated as a messiah and, alongside his partner, Lovelace (Williams’ in TV evangelist mode), lords over a separate group of penguins. Jealous of his son’s hero worship, Mumble is forced to turn to Sven when disaster strikes his entire colony.
Along the way, we’re treated to a number of side stories, including those of a particularly tough elephant seal and the attempts at romance on the part of Williams’ Ramon for Vergara’s penguin, Carmen. Pitt’s Will the Krill, meanwhile, has decided that life as one of the sea’s most insignificant creatures just isn’t for him and, to the lament of his best friend, Damon’s Bill the Krill, takes off to seek his higher purpose.
What makes “Happy Feet Two” so impressive is that it takes two of the key elements of the first film and goes significantly deeper, reexamining them and seeing how much weight their morals really carry. While the first “Happy Feet” offered the entirely sensible message that humanity needs to be aware of its environmental impact on wildlife, the sequel, without contradicting that notion of cause and effect, meditates on the sheer chaos the universe and offers the chilling addendum that, even with the best of intentions, bad things are still going to happen.
Likewise, the sequel’s storyline takes Mumble’s final lesson of the original–wherein, having learned to tap dance, he’s finally found his place in the universe–and perverts the notion of fate or destiny. Mumble is put up against other characters and their own “rightful places”: Sven, a false prophet celebrated for the wrong reasons and Bill and Will, tortured by their own insignificance.
Admittedly, the chaos of the film is also its biggest stumbling block. Because plotlines come and go and because much of the narrative eschews a straightforward arc, the film can feel uneven and aimless at times, especially in the first 30 minutes when the key dilemma (the plight of Mumbles’ friends and family) has not yet developed.
Ultimately, though, “Happy Feet Two” is the best kind of sequel and the best kind of family film, offering up good-natured song and dance with deeper themes that are exactly as weighty and existential as viewers choose to interpret them. In the end, there are no easy answers, but a steady beat and a cartoon chorus still gives us something to hold onto: the notion there are still moments, no matter how silly, that can sure make us smile. For a universe that can sometimes be filled with loneliness and uncertainty, being sure of a smile means the world.