I liked the original Happy Feet. It had adorable penguins, lots of catchy singing and dancing choreographed by and motion captured from Savion Glover. And did I mention the cute penguins? Even though I liked it I never really saw a sequel (or a franchise) being born from it. It felt like a one-hit wonder in pretty much every aspect. But the merchandise prospects for adorable, fuzzy, singing penguins is a call no film studio could ever ignore.
“Fluffy penguins in the arms of every child; Soundtracks sold by the millions; Holiday spin-offs; Coke commercial tie-ins,” it calls like the ancient Sirens beckoning men to their doom.
The film studios listen, and they come. And so we have, Happy Feet Two.
Happy Feet 2
Director: George Miller
Release Date: November 18, 2011
It’s an undeniable fact that Happy Feet Two is a movie about really cute penguins. And as such it has a bit of a leg up on most other children’s fare because its already got an in with everyone in existence. Only jaded people full of hate don’t like penguins and if you’re child doesn’t like penguins you better start rooting around in his or her hair for some upside down sixes. We will then start this review from the base of “adorable penguin” and critique from there. All you have to do is remember that anything said involves a fluffy, little penguin and take that into consideration.
Happy Feet 2 picks up a bit after the original Happy Feet. The original film’s protagonist, Mumble (Elijah Wood), is now grown up and has a child with his hearts desire, Gloria (Pink). His kid, Erik (Ava Acres) is having many of the same problems that Mumble had in the first film: he can’t seem to sing, but he also can’t seem to dance. As such, he too feels ostracized from the rest of the emperor penguins and runs away from home with two of his friends. Mumble chases after the trio and while the three are gone a giant ice burg crashes into the ravine that the rest of the flock is nesting in, trapping all of them. It’s up to Mumble and Erik to save them all with the rest of the cast of the previous film and a newcomer, flying penguin named The Might Sven (the always awesome Hank Azaria).
The original Happy Feet had a lot of charm behind it, but much of that seems to be lacking in this film. Part of that is because the plot seems almost exactly the same, but the bigger reason is that the story seems a bit forced. The song and dance number are especially strained for the most part, and in a film that is supposed to be a musical that’s a major issue. I was never quite sucked into the the film’s music like it wanted me to. Everything felt like it wasn’t quite necessary or was in the wrong place. Mumble and Erik’s adventure seemed like more of an excuse to get the penguin back on the screen than a real story.
One welcome addition to the movie that they could have forced on me all day were Will the Krill (Brad Pitt) and Bill the Krill (Mat Damon). These two microscopic Krill have their own side story, almost akin to Skrat in Ice Age, and are seriously clever, punny and funny. In fact their humorous and heartfelt interactions bring some of the only true feeling to the film as the two of them break away from their massive krill swarm and strike out on their own. Both Damon and Pitt lend absolutely killer voice performances and imbue the two krill with more life and character than the rest of the cast combined. Also, I’m pretty sure Will and Bill are gay, which made their relationship all the better. I was so wishing one of them would drop a “I wish I could quit you” the entire film.
While it must be said that most of the song and dance numbers didn’t live up to expectations (despite Savion Glover returning) it can’t be denied that the big finale of the film is absolutely spectacular. The animators at WB pulled all the stops out for the conclusion of this movie, and while the film looks fantastic throughout it reaches an artistic level of stunning when the last number kicks in. Add to that some great looking 3D (not necessary to enjoy the film) and you’ve got quite the closer that will get your foot tapping despite the rest of the film feeling hallow.
Packed with a story as subtle as the iceberg that crash’s into the emperor penguin’s home and drenched in an environmental awareness message, Happy Feet Two loses a lot of the charm and originality the first film had. Most of the film feels like to was just slapped together to fill whatever standards this hopeful franchise is trying to set up. When it does work, however, it makes you hope that further possible iterations arrive in a much better state of quality and with more of the writing team that handled Will and Bill and less of the team that put together the heavy handed father-son relationship between Mumble and Erik.
And remember, we’re starting from the base of “adorable penguin” so it’s already met with the approval of your children.