Movie Review – Happy Feet Two
– Summary –
Director : George Miller
Year Of Release : 2011
Principal Cast : Voices of Elijah Wood, Alicia Moore (P!nk), Robin Williams, Hank Azaria, Ava Acres, Benjamin “L’il P-Nut” Flores, Sofia Vergara, Magda Szubanski, Hugo Weaving, Common, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Anthony LaPaglia, Meibh Campbell, Richard Carter.
Approx Running Time : 105 Minutes
Synopsis: After a rogue iceberg collides with the Emperor Penguin colony’s home, trapping them beneath enormous walls of ice, Mumble and his friends must traverse the ice of Antarctica to find allies to save his family.
What we think : Nowhere near as terrible as some would have you think, Happy Feet Two was perhaps never quite needed as a film and yet still finds its own way as an entertainment. While the bleak themes of the original film are nowhere to be seen this time, and the religious undertones generally avoided as well, this clip-clapping sequel will still entertain all but the most hard-hearted cynical critic, even if the addition of Hank Azaria’s from-New-Zealand-but-speaks-with-a-Mexican-accent puffin does tend to grate a little.
Larger, louder ice-capades.
Happy Feet Two isn’t a film for everyone, even if it’s marketed as such. This isn’t a film for those of you who hate rambling, musical adventures with cutesy-pie characters and very little actual narrative tension. It’s a kids film, definitely, and a young adults film, surely, but any serious critic worth their salt will probably baulk at the dearth of a key villain or the lack of genuine emotion in the story’s non-environmental slant. Happy Feet’s whilrwind of song and dance together with an unsubtle message about the environtment is all but missing in Happy Feet Two, which is a shame because I was quite looking forward to a follow-up to that kind of storytelling with this one. Sure, Two combines dance and song, set to another playlist of popular music (the majority of which I’m unfamiliar with thanks to a constant diet of film soundtrack music over the last six months) and features a plenthor a of new characters to get to know, but the underlying message of the previous film is missing here: instead, Happy Feet Two is a film about survival against an accident of nature, instead of the involvement of mankind. The majority of the voice cast from the previous film are all back (although Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman make cameo appearances only) and we’re introduced to the “next generation” of characters in the franchise through Mumble’s children and friends, as well as a new “Lovelace” character in Sven, a geographically ambiguous puffin who’s become something of a Messiah figure.
The Emperor Penguins are still living in their Antarctic home, nestled between the ocean and a sheer cliffs of the ice shelf. Mumble (Elijah Wood), now partnered with Gloria (P!ink replaces the late Brittany Murphy) and is the proud father of Erik (Ava Acres), a young penguin who’s reluctant to try dancing like his father. Erik, ridiculed by those around him, leaves with his two friends, Atticus (L’il P-Nut) and Bodicea (Meibh Campbell) to follow Ramon (Robin Williams) back to his home colony across the ice, where they are surprised to discover that the Adelie colony is now in the thrall of a flying penguin named Sven (Hank Azaria). Sven has set himself up as a replacement for Lovelace (also Robin Williams) in that he’s a messianic figure who’s words are perceived as a holy truth of sorts, and he quickly becomes something of an icon to the trio of young penguins. Meanwhile, across the sea on a distant part of Antarctica, a massive iceberg has broken free of the sheet ice and heads directly towards the Emperor Colony, slamming into the only entrance point and effectively cutting the colony off from the outside world. As Mumble and the boys return, they discover their family and friends are all trapped, and must try and find a way of rescuing them from starvation. Also involved with this story are a pair of miniscule krill, Will (Brad Pitt) and Bill (Matt Damon) who wax lyrical about the meaning of life as they try to escape their humdrum existence as food, as well as a rough-and-tumble Elephant Seal named Bryan (Richard Carter, replacing the late Steve Irwin) whom Mumble saves from almost certain death.
While Happy Feet seemed content to limit itself to a more intimate, character-driven story, the sequel we’re dealing with here feels more like a Michael Bay version of penguin frolics than a rounded, coherent narrative. Two is a film with little subtlety about it – there’s an obviousness to the script that is only marginally hidden by the stunning animation. Boasting not one but four writers (including director George Miller), Happy Feet Two feels like everyone wanted to make another film but couldn’t come up with a decent story, or at least a decent arc for our characters, so instead fell back to having a natural event conspire to put our favorite penguins in danger. The story feels like it’s been written by four people; the story is episodic at best. There’s a lack of contiguous form to the story, as if at the start they didn’t quite know how it was all going to end up.
If there are any nuances to the story, it’s the paralell motif of blind faith against logic – in the first film, the rigid order of penguin life was held to account by Noah (Hugo Weaving, returning here in a limited role) and was eventually proven wrong by Mumble, while here, the similar role of Sven as a central figure of faith is once more pushed aside by our heroes – the concept of faith undergoing change is about as high-falutin’ as this film gets. Even then, it’s not examined in any seriousness, as it was in the previous film. Otherwise, Happy Feet Two is simply an adventure film, almost bordering on the Quest Movie genre, of which it steals ideas. There’s an obvious – very obvious – encounter with somebody who’ll return to save the day late in the film (Hint, it’s the elephant seal) that tries hard to be something emotional, and the egregious mistake of including Sven in the bulk of this films running time comes back to haunt Miller in the final reel. Sven isn’t a character as much as he’s a cliche, and although I generally like Hank Azaria’s work on The Simpsons, here he’s channeling a character so obtuse and ill-written it’s more annoying than funny. In fact, Sven barely raised a chuckle from me the entire film.
Robin William’s Ramon isn’t quite as funny as in the previous film, which is a shame. William’s pulls double duty again as Lovelace, although that character might as well not have appeared at all for the impact he has on the film. Lovelace is a hanger-on, never contributing to the movie aside from adding a sense of continuity to the previous installment. Ramon, however, should have been where Williams shone – he doesn’t. The role is underwritten, largely unfunny, and never goes anywhere. Ramon’s infatuation with a female penguin (voiced by Modern Family star Sofia Vergara) is insipid at best, although there are a few minor chuckles here and there. Instead, the comedy for the film is laid squarely at the tiny feet of two krill, voiced by Brad Pitt and Matt Damon, who absolutely slay their parts with enthusiasm and laughs. By far the funniest bits in the film, they not only provide a respite from the penguin shenanigans, but also a perfect duopoly of alternative existential humor.
Although I might have felt a little shafted by the lack of actual story content, there’s no denying that Happy Feet Two is a briskly paced, adventurous film with some stunning computer animation. I doubted there could have been an improvement over the first films’ dazzling visuals, but once more I am forced to eat my words as the guys from the Dr D animation studio deliver an astonishingly realistic presentation of the bottom of the world. Icebergs drift, tidal waves sweep across the ocean, wind and snow pelt our heroes as they struggle to find a way of saving the Emperor Colony, and as the sun beats down on all that ice, there’s a word to describe this movie’s visual aesthetic, and that’s “bright“. While you’d expect a film with a color scheme so predominantly filled with white in every frame to be perhaps lacking in detail, you’d be wrong. Textures and color, even the differing hues of white snow, are gloriously rendered in exquisite detail, each feather, fin and hair able to be seen in marvelous high definition resolution. I’d probably put this film’s animation at the same level of detail as Legends Of The Guardians: The Owls Of Ga’Hoole, and y’all know how I raved about that!
Where Happy Feet Two really excels is with the action storyline. The camera in this film never stops moving, whizzing around and about the locations and characters like Robert Zemeckis would do if he did some acid and hooked up with Tony Scott. Unlike Zemeckis’ penchant for “obvious” camera movies (have you seen some of the stuff he tried to do in What Lies Beneath?) and Tony Scott’s penchant for instigating epilepsy in his viewers, Miller’s camera direction feels flavorsome yet restrained, more naturalistic than manufactured – and considering this is a completely manufactured film, that’s saying something! The film feels epic, with the massive set-pieces within it – such as the apocalyptic iceberg breaking free in the opening sequence – having more visual heft than anything in the previous installment. There’s a sense of the larger world at play here, unlike the original film which focused more on Mumble at the expense of the ancillary characters. Here, the ancillary characters seem to take center stage.
As a movie, Happy Feet Two isn’t as bad as some critics might have you believe; no, it’s not perfect, and the flaws it does have aren’t the most horrible we’ve seen anyway, but you’ll need to check your brain at the door to thoroughly get involved in the machinations Miller and Co have crafted. With a focus less on character and more on action and adventure, and with vastly more characters to deal with than a single film can contain (perhaps this is where the problems stem from), Happy Feet Two is a pleasant enough waste of time with some solid vocal performances and some eye-candy animation, nothing more. Expect little, and be surprised. Expect a lot, and be disappointed.
What others are saying about Happy Feet Two:
Sam over at Duke & The Movies felt it was a bit of a waste: “Happy Feet Two is an affable endeavor for families with young children – for everyone else it’s just another disposable picture, lacking interesting characters and cliched, run of the mill ideas and themes.”
My mate Scott at Front Room Cinema had this to say: “…[the film]… starts very well but then soon falls off into boring territory. Where the first outing of the franchise relied on song and dance to keep the story interesting, this film falls more on the story side, and it loses some of the originals charm.”
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