Let’s be clear, unless you’re either the parent of a young child, or curious to see what an episode of The X Factor performed by Antarctic wildlife would look like, you’re very unlikely to find yourself in front of Happy Feet Two.
If you fall into the first category, then your main concern will be whether your young child is likely to have fun with the film, the answer to which is yes, I’d have thought so. If you fall into the second, then well, I’m not really sure what to tell you. To be frank, you’re a bit unusual.
For the uninitiated, the first Happy Feet took place in Antarctica, and followed the trials of young Mumble, an Emperor penguin who didn’t fit in because he couldn’t sing and was thus unable to find a mate (in the world of the film, Emperor Penguins pair up using a karaoke-based system, hence the inclusion of X Factor-style cover songs).
What non-singing Mumble could do, however, is dance. An unusual talent for a penguin at the best of times, and one looked upon with suspicion by his fellow penguins. Cue a hero’s journey of sorts for Mumble, who ended up learning an improving lesson about celebrating individuality.
Director George Miller also packed in some environmentally conscious stuff about the dangers of over-fishing (a notoriously hard sell to the under-tens market), a frenetic vocal performance from Robin Williams, and a schmaltzy love story.
This second instalment involves another cute ball of fluff, Mumble’s son Erik, singled out for derision because of his inability to dance (how soon penguins forget, those rhythmical bastards), but who turns out to have his own special talent, and who ends up learning an improving lesson about, you guessed it, celebrating individuality.
Happy Feet Two has other lessons to teach us, ones about family, love, friendship, and standing up to bullies. There are more admirable eco-conscious warnings about pollution and global warming this time around, though they’re quickly eclipsed by the film’s tangled narrative and all the cutesy singing.
Robin Williams is back for the sequel, voicing two penguins, one a horny Latino, the other a southern preacher. He’s joined by Elijah Wood as Mumble, singer Alicia Moore as his wife Gloria, Modern Family’s Sofia Vergara as a hot Latina penguin, and Hank Azaria as Scandinavian puffin Sven, a Tony Robbins-like guru for aquatic birds.
There are laughs to be had with Happy Feet Two, but unfortunately, almost as many groans. Hank Azaria makes for a fun “leetle pouffin”, and it’s difficult not to be pepped up by Robin Williams’ energy. Funniest of all is the film’s C plot, featuring Brad Pitt as an existentially anxious krill and Matt Damon as his BFF, though your tolerance for “I’m one in a krill-ion” type puns will determine how far you agree.
It’s actually a little heart-breaking how good Happy Feet Two looks. Hundreds of people have clearly worked hard and excelled at getting their little bits of ice crystal, feather and fluff just right. The Antarctic vistas are vast and the seascapes are awesome, in the original sense of the word. When a harsh wind blows in and the penguins huddle together for warmth, it could be Frozen Planet we’re watching, rather than a cartoon.
I say heart-breaking though, because unlike Wall-E, or say, Finding Nemo (a more fitting comparison for the ocean-side adventure), Happy Feet Two’s good looks far outstrip its story, script, and character. The plot is unnecessarily convoluted and moulded Glee-style to fit with its odd cocktail of songs.
After an energetic musical opening, things soon unravel into a series of medleys and mash-ups which verges on the incoherent. The film culminates in a flash mob of elephant seals attempting to cause an avalanche through the power of the soft shoe shuffle. It’s not just odd, it’s oddly disjointed.
Some nice looking animation then, a few gags, many, many songs, and a bucketful of schmaltzy lessons. Happy Feet Two will serve as adequate Christmas movie-going fodder for young kids, but if you have the choice, richer fare awaits parents and older children in both Arthur Christmas and Hugo.