by Jay Seaver
"Happy Feet" had an odd but charming concept - penguins who sing, except for the misfit who tap-dances - and somehow managed to get even odder as it went along. "Happy Feet Two", in comparison, seems like a more conventional animated sequel, but its eccentricity is on display by the end.It's only fitting that things are a little more settled - the tap-dancing penguin from the first, Mumble (voice of Elijah Wood) is more settled; he and his mate Gloria (voice of Alecia "Pink" Moore) have a boy of their own. It seems Erik (voice of Ava Acres) is just as awkward as his father was, and after a mortifying scene in front of the whole colony, Erik and his friends Bo (voice of Meibh Campbell) and Atticus (voice of Benjamin "Lil P-Nut" Flores Jr.) run away from home, tagging along with Mumble's friend Ramon (voice of Robin Williams), who is going back to his Adelie colony. There they meet Sven (voice of Hank Azaria), a flying penguin. Mumble goes to fetch the kids, but while he's out, disaster befalls the colony.
"A good sequel is a happy feat."
Meanwhile, a krill named Will (voice of Brad Pitt) decides he wants to be an individual instead of part of a swarm, although his scared friend Bill (voice of Matt Damon) isn't quite so sure about the idea.
George Miller once again directs - yes, he made the Mad Max movies and Lorenzo's Oil; he was also behind Babe and its sequel - and he's got some big ideas at play above and beyond how cute baby penguins are. For instance, while Happy Feet Two isn't a movie about climate change per se, that's something that's clearly on his mind. The danger to the emperor penguin colony is clearly the result of that situation, and while Miller and his three co-writers don't force a lecture from the birds, they do frequently pull the camera back to space, far enough to make the audience connect the penguins' crisis with the planet as a whole (along with the impact of man), and he moves from that global scale all the way down to the microscopic krill.
As much as the movie moves toward a conclusion where everybody must work together, it's unusually insistent on the importance of the individual, not just in terms of how everybody must play his part, but that the group will be stronger both for taking in outsiders like Sven or by having mavericks like Will leave and learn. Will is probably the best new character in the movie, with Brad Pitt voicing him with a quite frankly deranged confidence, with the panic of Matt Damon's Bill making them a great buddy act. Sven is more aimed at the kids, with Hank Azaria supplying a goofy accent and holding his own when called upon to out-wacky two Robin Williams characters. The little penguins are awful cute, although I suspect that a lot of kids will identify more with cool, hip-hopping Atticus than the questioning Erik.
The last act does have Erik at the center of one of the movie's best moments, though, both because it lays his little penguin heart bare and because it shows that even if Miller and company don't quite have a new trick up their sleeves, they've certainly got some unexpected variations on what they did in the first movie. Not a lot - the movie can seem to be going through the motions between songs. Like before, Happy Feet Two is a proud musical, albeit an unconventional one in that its songs are almost all mashups and rather than being pushed into a safe dream/fantasy place, the song and dance is what the characters are actually doing. More than anything, the movie rises and falls on how much the viewer digs penguins, puffins, krill, and seals mixing pop music spanning decades together to literally dance their way out of a hole, and the filmmakers wind up managing the strange task of choreographing that surprisingly well: The movie's opening and finale are long, elaborate numbers, strange enough that folks in the audience may step back and say "that's a weird, unexpected combination" - but follow that up by saying they dig it.
Having some good dance people on board probably helps - for example, Savion Glover choreographs some of the motion-captured dance. It's a spiffy-looking movie all around, with the animators striking a decent balance between having characters move like penguins, krill, and other Antarctic animals and humanizing them, although they sometimes have a hard time differentiating the characters and environments. It looks nice in IMAX and 3D, although neither are necessarily worth an expensive upgrade in this case.Like a lot of sequels, though, it basically comes down to how much a person likes the first, because this is more of that, with a little bit of discovery traded for comfort. It's a trade that the "Happy Feet" movies can afford to make once and still be enjoyably offbeat. Maybe it won't work a third time, but so far it's holding up pretty well.
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originally posted: 12/02/11 12:32:52