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Movie Review: Happy Feet Two (PG)

happyfeet2By Roxana Hadadi

 Released five years ago in 2006, “Happy Feet” was about overfishing and its dangerous impact on our environment, a “FernGully”-like story that attempted to mimic what that film did for rainforest awareness.

“Happy Feet Two,” however, is about nothing at all.

 Teamwork and belonging are some mentioned themes, but “Happy Feet” already covered those well enough with its depiction of Mumble (Elijah Wood), an emperor penguin who looked and acted a little different from everyone else but was eventually able to prove his worth, earning respect from his peers and love from mate Gloria (first voiced by Brittany Murphy). He couldn’t sing well, but that penguin could dance, tapping his way into his community’s heart. Audiences laughed and danced and learned a little about the environment, too, making “Happy Feet” the kind of socially conscious children’s film parents could also enjoy.

 All that is somewhat sullied with “Happy Feet Two,” which reiterates those messages in a way that doesn’t seem new or daring. Mumble and Gloria (now voiced by Alicia Moore, also known as the singer Pink) have a child, the young Erik (E.G. Daily), who is too bashful to dance in public, drawing mocking attention from the other penguins. Erik just wants to fly, a wish which Mumble can’t convince him is impossible — especially when Erik meets The Mighty Sven (Hank Azaria), a penguin who can soar and flap through the air. With legions of adoring women and a hypeman in the form of of Mumble’s old friend Lovelace (Robin Williams), Sven is an egotistical celebrity, and Erik begins to ignore his own father for Sven’s positive thinking and motivational speaking.

 Erik and Mumble will need each other, though, when melting icebergs smash into the emperor penguins’ home, land-locking them away from the waters that hold their food. Gloria, and hundreds of others, are stuck, relying on Mumble, Erik and a few of his young friends (who werr away from homewhen the incident happened) to save them. As panic and hysteria sweep through the group, Mumble must again step up.

 Of course the penguins will end up living — this is a children’s story, not some grotesque collection of massacre photos, ala PETA — so “Happy Feet Two” is really about the laughs that come before that inevitable happy ending. But it’s difficult to get into a film that packs in a bunch of older songs that kids won’t recognize, like “Mama Said Knock You Out” by LL Cool J and “We Are the Champions” by Queen, and relies on plodding storytelling that clearly betrays its next steps. When Mumble meets a crotchety elephant seal named Bryan the Beachmaster (Richard Carter), it’s obvious the huge mammal who owes him a favor will end up returning to the film at a pivotal point. And yeah, the penguins are going to dance it out. Why wouldn’t they?

Instead, the film’s most ingenuous, creative and visually astonishing scenes come from a separate subplot, following Will (Brad Pitt) and Bill (Matt Damon), both krill who separate from their swarm and venture into the great wild ocean on their own. The nearly invisible, red-tinged crustaceans near the bottom of the food chain wander throughout the film, with the rogue Will experiencing an existential crisis that makes him want to be a predator and the skeptical, frustrated Bill being dragged along for the ride. Their conversations about nihilism, fatalism and the meaning of life are for parents only, and a wonderful break from the goofy happiness of those dancing penguins — plus, the underwater shots of jellyfish and schools of fish are breathtaking in their details. Pitt and Damon are perfectly suited for this — the former is especially ideal at infusing lines with a dripping, droll sarcasm — and Will and Bill should get their own spinoff movie or something. They’re that good.

Otherwise “Happy Feet Two” follows all the right steps but lacks the kind of soul to make them really resonate. The animation (especially scenes incorporating motion capture of live human actors) is flawless, the colors are vibrant and the message is nice enough. But as a sequel, “Happy Feet Two” can’t fully follow in its predecessor’s footsteps.



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