I loathed the first Happy Feet, though I didn’t see it until a month after it won Best Animated feature, which is to say a month after anyone cared. Interestingly enough, Happy Feet Two is equally awful, but for almost entirely different reasons. Both are weak on story, though one could argue the first film is akin to a Greek epic compared to the abstract stupidity of this sequel, which is so scatter brained it’s as if they dropped two different scripts and were too lazy to put the pages back in order.
At the very least, the first film had some semblance of a story as a dancing penguin that couldn’t sing is shunned from his penguin surroundings and, in an effort to prove his worth, ventures out into the wilds of Antarctica to find out what happened to all the fish. What followed was a mess of political, religious and environmental metaphors mixed with a bunch of singing and dancing penguins. Five years later, the sequel doesn’t abandon the musical talents of these flightless birds, beginning with a mix tape of old school pop and rap songs from Janet Jackson to LL Cool J, but after that it presents a story so ridiculously thin it’s amazing they were able to turn it into a 105-minute feature.
Centering again on the tap dancing penguin named Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood), Happy Feet Two adds a new batch of little ones to the mix as Mumble has now partnered with Gloria (voiced by Pink, replacing the late Brittany Murphy) and they have a little one of their own, Erik who is for some reason voiced by a young girl named Ava Acres.
Problems begin when Erik embarrasses himself when he tries to dance, prompting him to runaway with two of his little friends, following in the footsteps of Ramon (voiced by Robin Williams) who’s decided to return back to where he first met Mumble in the 2006 original, a place where he feels he’s more appreciated. Obviously, worried about his son and the two other little penguins, Mumble begins searching only to end up finding them awe struck at what they believe to be a flying penguin named Sven (voiced by Hank Azaria). How can a father who is a flightless penguin possibly compete with the talents Sven exhibits, not to mention his promises that you can do anything you can set your mind to, even fly? It’s a solid message, but of course a confused one considering the source.
Meanwhile, trouble strikes back home when a glacier breaks free and ultimately traps Mumble’s clan of Emperor penguins in an ice bowl they are unable to escape. Mumble must gather all his resources if he’s to save Gloria and the rest of his kind or risk losing them forever. This, as it turns out, is as deep as the story will get.
Granted, the team of four screenwriters wedge in a brief side story with an elephant seal named Bryan (voiced by Richard Carter) and a pair of rebel krill named Will and Bill voiced by Brad Pitt and Matt Damon respectively, but it all feels like filler instead of actual additions to the plot. Happy Feet Two could have played as a 20 minute animated short for as much story as it has, or two for that matter with the second focusing on the two rogue krill as they leave their swarm behind, unwilling to spend another moment as members of the lowest rung on the food chain.
It’s at this point, though, that I began to wonder just why exactly this story of these two krill is even being told. Is the main story so weak we really need a second, side story to try and sell the “find your place in the world” moral of the story? And as much as I understand these are singing and dancing penguins, I’m sorry, but that aspect of the film gets really old, really quick, especially when the arbitrary solution to all of the problems faced in the film is either dancing or singing. At no point does Happy Feet Two play like a musical, so when it tries to become one it is just one more drop in the bucket of confusion.
What? The penguins are trapped? Start dancing! What? The elephant seal won’t help you? Belt out an aria from Evita! It was like watching “Transformers on Ice” and instead of explosions you get dancing, all of it adding into a big ol’ pile of nothing. I was at least grateful they left the metaphors to a minimum this time around, although you can’t have a film about Antarctica and not include a constant global warming message.
The film is not a complete loss, however. I actually did enjoy the two krill voiced by Pitt and Damon. They were not only brilliantly animated, but they were entertaining. Forget the trapped penguins, give me a 30-minute short centered on Will and Bill and I’ll be happy. It’s when director George Miller throws that junky penguin story in the middle that he messes and muddles it all up to the point the krill are less entertaining and more a brief reprieve.
To the animation point I just mentioned, Happy Feet Two truly is magnificent from a visual perspective. The segments featuring the krill, whose glowing orange bodies illuminate the screen against their dark blue ocean surroundings, are quite beautiful. Above ground, the stark white landscape of Antarctica is complimented by the bright blue sky, with brief splashes of color creating an appealing visual.
Unfortunately, a film with a story as dull as this can’t be fixed with pretty pictures. As much as I would never recommend anyone watch Happy Feet, I think I would be even more adamant in steering them clear of Happy Feet Two. I got little to no enjoyment out of this movie and would never sit through it again.