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Happy Feet Two
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by Peter Sobczynski

"A Penguin Movie That Even Werner Herzog Might Like"
4 stars

When the original "Happy Feet" was released in 2006, it was pretty much a success by all applicable standards. Audiences, no doubt fueled by mankind's eternal fascination with penguins, flocked to it in droves, critics were pretty much enthusiastic about it across the board and it even took home that year's Oscar for Best Animated Film in a rare victory over the usual Disney/Pixar juggernaut. (Of course, their big entry that year was "Cars," but still. . .) With all of that goodwill in the bank, you would think that the arrival of "Happy Feet Two" would be greeted with an avalanche of hype and enthusiasm but for some reason, the anticipation towards its arrival feels oddly muted. Whether it is is the result of the glut of upcoming family films, the intense curiosity and anticipation surrounding the likes of "Hugo," "The Muppets" and "The Adventures of Tin-Tin" or the fallout from the massive disappointment of last summer's "Cars 2," it just seems that a film that should be coming into the marketplace with the strut of a champion is arriving almost as an afterthought. Of course, I could be wrong and in this case, I certainly hope that I am because "Happy Feet Two" is a real charmer that is just as good as the original and even better in some ways

Picking up the story a couple of years after the events of the original, the film opens with a massive production number featuring thousands of Emperor penguins singing and dancing to the sounds of "Rhythm Nation." Alas, despite being the child of tap-dancing father Mumbles (Elijah Wood) and singing mother Gloria (rock star P!nk, taking over the role previously played by the late Brittany Murphy), little Erik (Ava Acres) is unable to do either and feels like a misfit because of his apparent lack of talent. When the wacky and hot-blooded Ramon (Robin Williams) decides to return to his native area in search of a mate, Erik, along with a couple of his pals, decide to tag along. When they finally arrive, they discover that his former flock are in the thrall of Sven (Hank Azaria), a Swedish-accented penguin who has miraculously developed the ability to fly and who informs his new following that miraculous things can happen if one sets their mind to it and believes that they can do it. Erik is completely taken with Sven's message. Ramon, not so much, mostly because he is distracted by the comely charms of waddling mamacita Carmen (Sofia Vergara).

Eventually, Mumbles arrives on the scene to bring Erik and the others home but on their return journey, it becomes obvious that the ever-present threat of global warming has caused unexpected and dangerous shifts in the the terrain. When they finally return home, they discover that, as the result of the collapse of an enormous chunk of the Antarctic shelf, their entire flock is now trapped at the bottom of a deep crevasse with no means of escape, no means of getting any fish and loathsome birds of prey circling the area and preparing to strike. When the neighboring penguin nations arrive on the scene to provide food, Erik implores his new hero Sven to teach the others to fly so that they can save themselves. Naturally, Sven turns out to be not entirely as advertised and it is then up to Mumbles and little Erik to save the day before it is too late. Lending some assistance in this endeavor are Bryan (Richard Carter), an extremely proud elephant seal, and Will the Krill (Brad Pitt) and Bill the Krill (Matt Damon), a pair of tiny crustaceans who have decided to jump-start their evolution and see what life is like outside their swarm. Well, Will has while the much more neurotic Bill is mostly along for the ride. (If you will recall, the first "Happy Feet" was condemned by some conservative commentators for what they perceived to be some kind of lioberal agenda regarding the environment. I can't wait to see what transpires when they get a load of Will and Bill, who are essentially the undersea version of Bert & Ernie if you know what I mean and I think you do.)

Like the original, "Happy Feet 2" was directed by George Miller, one of the few filmmakers out there who has made sequels that have proven to be just as entertaining, if not more so, than their already-sterling predecessors, including such classics as "The Road Warrior," "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome" (yeah, it is a great movie and those who disagree can frankly suck it) and the glorious and sadly underrated "Babe: Pig in the City." Unlike most filmmakers who only look upon sequels as little more than filmed deals that are cranked out with no other idea driving them than the urge to generate a lot of cash with the least effort possible, Miller looks upon them as a chance to offer up a fuller, richer and more detailed exploration of the previously established characters and the environment that enhance upon the original instead of simply rehashing what has already been seen. As silly as it may sound, the anima characters here have been infused with genuinely recognizable human qualities that make them into more than mere cartoon characters slipping and sliding around for our enjoyment.

Another aspect that separates Miller's endeavors into the world of family filmmaking from the others is his belief that kids can handle more complex themes when handled properly and his refusal to dumb down or candy-coat the material because it is aimed at largely at younger viewers. For example, although the words "global warming" are never uttered once throughout the film, its danger is so ever-present, whether in the form of massive collapses or the sight of a seal silently perched on a tiny ice floe, that it could help turn an entire generation of kids into budding environmentalists without pounding the message into them with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. The action scenes are also impressive staged as well in the way that he stages them so that they are funny and exciting while still making sure to include a certain amount of danger and excitement into the mix.

That said, I don't want to create the impression that "Happy Feet Two" is a dark and depressing work--that is the exact sort of talk that doomed "Babe: Pig in the City" when it was released in theaters and robbed audiences of seeing one of the great visionary family films of our time on the big screen where it belongs. Although the film does have its serious side, it does not lay things on too thick and the movie as a whole is largely cheerful and funny and bright, especially if you forgo the 3D option and see the flat version instead. (The studio unexpectedly chose to screen the 2D version for the press and I can't say that I felt that I was missing anything without the additional dimension.) The vocal performances are all winning as well--Elijah Wood is touching and sincere, Pink does a credible job of stepping into Brittany Murphy's footsteps and Brad Pitt and Matt Damon make for a hilarious comedy relief duo as the rapidly evolving Krill. Hell, even Robin Williams scores a few big laughs here as well while managing to restrain his usual compulsion to schtick up the joint and considering the fact that this is Robin Williams enacting the Spanish-inflected voice of a lovelorn penguin, that is a considerable achievement for him. The songs, a mix of classics and a couple of newer tunes, are also mighty entertaining as well. While I wouldn't want to spoil some of the fun by revealing what songs are perform, I will mere point out that the climactic number is one that not only works perfectly but which will have the added effect of causing a certain early 90's rap stat of some notoriety to watch it and remark "Come on, really?"

Put all of it together and you get a family film that will work for viewers of all ages, a sequel that is a more than worthy continuation to its predecessor and a movie about penguins that even Werner Herzog himself might like.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=18901&reviewer=389
originally posted: 11/17/11 22:00:05
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User Comments

11/18/12 Dr.Lao Not as bad as the original, which isn't saying a lot 2 stars
3/14/12 M zzzzzzz.... 1 stars
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  18-Nov-2011 (PG)
  DVD: 13-Mar-2012


  DVD: 13-Mar-2012

Directed by
  George Miller

Written by
  George Miller

  Elijah Wood
  Robin Williams
  Hank Azaria
  Brad Pitt
  Matt Damon

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