Happy Feet Two (2011)

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 

     

Featuring the Voices of: Elijah Wood, Alecia Moore (P!nk), Ava Acres, Hank Azaria, Robin Williams, Meibh Campbell, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, Benjamin “Lil’ P-Nut” Flores, Jr., Richard Carter, Sofia Vergara, Magda Szubanski, Hugo Weaving, Common, Carlos Alazraqui, Anthony LaPaglia, Lee Perry, Elizabeth Daily, Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman.
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Director: George Miller
Rating: PG

Running Time: 99 Minutes
Release Date: November 18, 2011
Home Video Release Date: March 13, 2012
Box Office: $64.0 Million
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Village Roadshow Pictures, Kennedy Miller Mitchell, Dr. D Studios, and Warner Bros. Pictures.

Written by: George Miller, Gary Eck, Warren Coleman, and Paul Livingston; based on characters created from the film “Happy Feet”, written by Warren Coleman, John Collee, George Miller, and Judy Morris.

“Come on son…let’s shake this world!” – Mumble (Elijah Wood).

Happy Feet was a surprise 2006 Best Animated Feature Film Oscar winner, which featured anthropomorphic penguins singing, dancing, and having a much different experience than Morgan Freeman showed us in the Oscar winning documentary of 2007, March Of The Penguins.  Directed by George Miller, Happy Feetwas a pretty terrific movie, whose approach was novel and unique for its time.  Plus, the film’s important messages and themes of environmental responsibility and tolerance and acceptance of all, regardless of differences, resonated and embedded within the hearts and minds of viewers of all ages.

And almost exactly 5 years later, Miller and Warner Bros. Pictures delivered Happy Feet Two, the long-awaited sequel which promised more signing and dancing and another story of recognizing the beauty in differences and finding your own path in life.  Whereas we took this journey with Mumble (Elijah Wood), we now find Erik (Ava Acres), son of Mumble and Gloria (Alecia Moore, a/k/a pop music superstar P!nk), nervous and hesitant to join in with the dancing, singing, and epic musical numbers which the penguins of Emperor-land perform about as often as they breathe.  Mumble encourages him that everything will be alright, but Erik stumbles and has an embarrassing accident.  Erik simply wants to hide and Mumble and Gloria are unsure how to help him.

The bombastic Ramon (Robin Williams) sets off to Adelie-Land and Erik sets off with Ramon and his two best friends, Bo (Meibh Campbell) and Atticus (Benjamin Flores, Jr.), against the hesitancy of his parents.  In Adelie-Land, the penguins find The Mighty Sven (Hank Azaria), a “penguin who can fly”, and Erik becomes enamored with Sven and idolizes him tremendously.  As Sven has a guru-like hold on his penguin followers, he introduces Ramon to Carmen (Sofia Vergara) and when found by Mumble, sends Erik and his friends back home with his father.

Peril comes fairly often in Happy Feet Two.  An elephant seal falls hundreds of feet into a crevasse in front of his pups, only to have them cry out if their Daddy will be alright.  A massive shifting iceberg landlocks Emperor-land and isolates Mumble and the penguin youth from their families and community.  Once isolated, food and resources become scarce and while Mumble, Bo, Ramon, and Erik try and deliver fish to the starving inhabitants of Emperor-land, Skua birds threaten and attempt to attack and dire consequences are immediate and imminent.

Wait though…this is called “Happy Feet Two”…right?!?!?!  And did my 5-year old just repeat for the 12th time or so, “Well, they are surely going to die…”?  What is happening here!?!?!?

I mention this not to be a spoiler of any type but to make mention of the fact that Happy Feet Two is an unnecessarily intense film.  Remembering that the film was exhibited in 3D in theaters, I can only imagine what my 5-year old would have experienced seeing tiny, fluffy, youthful penguins, akin to her view of the world, cowering in a cramped hole while teeth-baring creatures she does not recognize gnash at her and suddenly surge towards the camera.

The problem with all of this lies in the mixed messages we get from George Miller and his writing team.  On the one hand, we are supposed to sing and dance and mash-up pop songs from present day and long ago, while slathering on the cute and cuddly.  But apparently also be mindful that with that good time party-like atmosphere, danger lurks at every corner and an enemy can come at any time and strike under any circumstance.  Really George, really?

Sadly, Happy Feet Two goes completely off the rails in the last 20-30 minutes when The Mighty Sven reveals his true identity and back story, human beings (motion-captured ones it seems) play a goofy role in the proceedings, and then…even more danger befalls the Adelie-land penguins and Mumble is unable to help them because…yes…you may have guessed it – he is hurt and injured.  Sigh.  Did George Miller have someone with children anger him since he won his Oscar for Happy Feet?  Maybe he was contractually obligated to deliver this film and he is like, so over the whole penguin-thing.

And despite some puzzling decisions, I have to give credit where credit is due.  The film retains a tremendous look and the detail in the animation is perhaps even better and more vivid than the 2006 film.  Some of the voice work is quite good, including that of P!nk, rapper Common, and an appearance by Australian voice over legend Richard Carter, as the Beachmaster/elephant seal.  One original song, “Bridge of Light”, as performed by P!nk, is pretty terrific and well rendered.  Look – just to show you I am not of a blackened heart, the initial start to the film is quite cute and engaging.

Happy Feet Two simply suffocates under its own weight and breaks apart as easily as the icebergs and glacial structures seem to do on screen.  In surveying the description and synopsis on the back of the Blu-Ray/DVD release, there is next to no indication that what you are about to see has this much intense drama and frankly, might freak out your kids.  Rather, you get this innocuous description:

“In this sequel to the Academy Award-winning Happy Feet, it’s up to Erik to find his groove in a world where singing and dancing rule.”

As does starvation, isolation, danger, peril, lies, deceit, and the possibility of death at every turn.  Kids start the popcorn…

Should I See It?

YES

I cannot fault those who watched and loved Happy Feet for wanting to give this a spin or a watch.  The first film was terrific and some pleasures of that film will be present here.  I think this all goes down fine if an engaged family are watching it together.

Your kids and/or younger viewers will probably dig the singing and dancing and the medleys will likely bring about singalongs in the days after seeing the film.  The animation is extremely well done and when it stays out of the darker story elements, Happy Feet Two is pretty alright.

NO

Look…let’s be honest – this is nothing at all like an animated horror film or anything like that.  However, the film does seem unnecessarily strong in how it tells its dramatic elements.  The scene involving the seal pups watching the father fall is harrowing, the Skua attack is eye-opening, and the desperate nature of the hunger and isolation did surmount to my youngest daughter believing that these characters were all going to die.  It’s a real reaction that should be shared.

There is very little “Happy” in Happy Feet Two and the film’s poor reception and middling box office returns are the direct result of word getting out that this film is not what it is being advertised as.  What a shame.

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