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Happy Feet Two

2011 | PG | 2.39:1

Happy Feet Two


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Theatrical release date

 18 November, 2011
 02 December, 2011

Country of origin

 United States

Technical aspects

3D (native)

Box office




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Happy Feet Two


Screenshots from Happy Feet Two 3D Blu-ray

Happy Feet Two Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, November 20, 2011

2006's "Happy Feet" was a jubilant, toe-tapping viewing experience...for about an hour. Its eventual slide into darker issues of animal captivity and environmental disaster was a laudable deviation but tore the pace apart, making the effort a bizarre, confused message movie featuring a cast of dancing penguins. With the cute factor off the charts, "Happy Feet" was a massive hit at the box office, which is why we're faced with "Happy Feet Two." Again, director George Miller looks to marry the Earth's woe with the wiggly antics of flightless birds, but there's really nowhere for this story to go after the conclusion of the original picture. There's plenty of bopping, singing, and intense displays of global warming wreckage, yet the sequel is even more scattershot with these wildly disparate cinematic elements. If "Happy Feet" was tonally unsteady, "Happy Feet Two" is tone-deaf.

At the South Pole with his Emperor Penguin brothers and sisters, Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood) is having difficulty raising son Erik (E.G. Daily), who can't quite fit in with the group's daily ritual of musical performance. When Erik and a few of his pals take off into the wild, Mumble sets out to retrieve his son, soon finding him in a strange land of penguins who worship the flying wonder of The Mighty Sven (Hank Azaria), a Norwegian Puffin who spent time with the destructive human menace and lived to tell the tale. With Mumble off on his quest, a rogue glacier smashes into his home, trapping the community, cutting them off from food and loved ones. Also on the prowl are krill Will (Brad Pitt) and Bill (Matt Damon), two crustaceans facing an existential crisis, separating from their swarm to see the world and climb the food chain.

While a fabulous director who's found great critical and financial success with live-action endeavors ("The Road Warrior," "The Witches of Eastwick," "Lorenzo's Oil"), Miller's family entertainment offerings (including the catastrophic "Babe: Pig in the City") have been woefully mismanaged, chasing toxic whimsy with a crooked smile. Not that films for the younger set should all be so rigidly cheery and defanged, but Miller has a sweet tooth for darkness, which has yet to translate into something cinematically meaningful.

"Happy Feet Two" flips the balance of the earlier effort, fitting the opening act with chilling environmental decay, introducing the penguin posse as a neighborhood under threat as the glaciers crack and the water levels rise. However, it isn't long before the picture zooms back to the dancing birds, with new co-star Pink (taking over for actress Brittany Murphy, who passed away in 2009) handling singing duties, running through hits while the backgrounds ripple with penguin boogie, giving audiences more of what made "Happy Feet" such a sensation. Brought to life with fluid mo-cap work and vibrant CG-animation, the celebration sequences are striking but unavoidably frantic, displaying Miller's rather tiresome habit of roving camerawork, constantly swirling around the snow to manufacture momentum.

The flipper-flapping is fine, a little on the tired side due to the repetition, but once the story gets underway, it's obvious Miller should've stuck with the dance fever. Sending Mumble out into the unknown to retrieve his son could've opened "Happy Feet Two" to a fresh assortment of Antarctic creatures, strange shapes and faces that provide a broader portrait of the area's volatility and capacity for beauty. Instead, there's a strange interaction with a defiant elephant seal that requires a display of Mumble's selflessness, and there's an entire B-story with Bill and Will, two insignificant players in the sea life sweepstakes who yearn for a better life. Well, at least Will aims big. Bill is more of a worrywart, prone to panic attacks, while offering the film a vague homosexual subtext as the sensitive male krill wants to adopt babies with Will, singing hits from Wham! to soothe his nerves. It's cute, but one of many bizarre textures in a feature overflowing with unchecked oddity. The entire subplot with Sven is also a disappointment, greeting even more wacky penguins as Erik discovers the Nordic puffin's cult, corralled by sweatered subordinate Lovelace (Robin Williams). Sven's backstory allows Miller to reintroduce a human presence to the movie, pairing the flying one with the crew of a Russian ship, one of whom loves to jam on his electric guitar to communicate with the local wildlife.

What makes "Happy Feet Two" so challenging to keep up with are the wild swings from light to dark, with a routine of broad comedy and calamitous events disrupting the picture's flow. The script is nothing but random ideas for musical numbers and limp character arcs, gathered into an erratic feature that's shockingly joyless, despite all the pop hits and fluffy birds. Considering the title, there's little to the effort that's honestly cheerful, with Miller fumbling the whimsy and pouring the gloom on a little too thick. The sequel never settles down, finding an appealing middle ground between the two tonal extremes. It's either penguin euphoria or the death of them all. How tiring.

The chaotic atmosphere carries to the finale, which piles on the animated acrobatics (ruining a Queen classic in the process) while offering little Erik a chance to showcase his opera skills. Throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks, Miller drains the element of surprise out of "Happy Feet Two," beating the audience with randomness and bipolar direction. I'm all for dancing penguins, but perhaps that's enough for just one movie.

Starring: Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, Pink, Sofía Vergara, Common, Brad Pitt
Director: George Miller

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