Like its predecessor, Happy Feet Two succeeds by reaching beyond the expectations of an animated family comedy. It’s not that there’s music; it’s that the music is expertly orchestrated and perfectly in sync with the visuals. It’s not that there’s singing and dancing; it’s that both are handled with the care and precision of a professional stage production, and that they’re done on a scale large enough that it surpasses amusement and achieves an unexplainable satisfaction. Not bad when you consider that all the dancers are penguins. The animation is spectacular, the Antarctic renderings are superb, the characters are engaging, the plot is both fun and timely, and the voice work is on par with the best cartoon movies. The biggest surprise is the 3D, which is bright enough to see and immersive enough to seem uncanny.
If you recall the original film, an emperor penguin named Mumble was ostracized because he could dance but not sing. Since that time, Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood) has not only been accepted by his fellow penguins but has also made dancing itself acceptable. Indeed, the film opens with brilliant display of choreography, with penguins tapping their feet, shaking their tails, and waving their flippers as far as the eye can see. In an ironic twist of fate, Mumble’s young son, Erik (voiced by E.G. Daily), lacks the ability to dance and feels out of place. When he and a group of friends ventures to neighboring penguin nation – where we’re reintroduced to the sassy Ramon (voiced by Robin Williams) – he witnesses a congregation presided over by the zealous Lovelace (also voiced by Williams) and a new character, a Swedish puffin named The Mighty Sven (voiced by Hank Azaria), who passes himself off as a penguin with the ability to fly.
Erik is inspired by Sven and thinks he has finally found his purpose in life. How can Mumble break it to him that penguins cannot actually fly? At the moment, that doesn’t much matter; the melting of ice sheets and rapid movement of glaciers has changed the land to such a degree that Mumble’s people are trapped. This would include his love, Gloria (voiced by Pink, replacing the late Brittany Murphy). Freeing them depends on the destruction of a massive ice shelf. This will require far more than the assistance of Lovelace and his penguin nation. It will also require elephant seals, including a bully who calls himself The Beach Master (voiced by Richard Carter). How he comes to be in Mumble’s service, I leave for you to discover.
In an odd and disconnected but no less enjoyable subplot, two krill, known alliteratively as Will and Bill (voiced by Brad Pitt and Matt Damon), have strayed away from their swarm. One of them learns some hard facts about his place on the food chain and is determined to become a fearsome carnivore. Working his way up the ladder, you might say. The other is a neurotic who clings to his friend like a frightened puppy dog. I honestly don’t remember which one is which, but to be perfectly honest, I don’t think it matters. They’re both given some of the film’s wittiest lines – as well as a slew of obvious puns that only add to their charm. Their scenes show the best utilization of the 3D process, I suspect they mostly take place underwater. I don’t know what it is about underwater shots and their positive effect on 3D. Perhaps it has something to do with the illusion of density, or the fact that air bubbles can come directly into your field of vision.
Part of what makes these movies so worthwhile is the effort to make audiences conscious of pressing social issues – such as tolerance, persecution, and individuality – and documented environmental concerns – such as human interference with nature, pollution, and of course, global warming. Director George Miller and his writers are not content to simply pander to children and their families. Yes, they want them to laugh and have a good time, but they also want them to be aware of themselves and of what’s going on in the world. In the wrong hands, this would be mistaken as propaganda. If I’ve given you pause, let me assure you that this movie contains nothing of the sort.
Happy Feet Two is above all exuberant entertainment, a song and dance extravaganza with an infectious soundtrack. In this regard, Pink was a wise casting choice. There’s more to it than her ability to sing; there’s empathy in her voice, an emotional resonance that lets me know her character is not only a mother but also a deeply caring person. Her solo number midway through the film (also included on the first film’s soundtrack) signals the appearance of the aurora australis, which is, needless to say, a beautiful sight to behold, especially in 3D. Some have been critical of these movies, but I for one am glad that we have them. They don’t follow the rules of the traditional animated movie – no soppy love stories, no mindless comedy bits, no “playing down” to the level of the audience. They are, in a word, unique.
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Warner Bros. Pictures