VOCAL WORK BY
Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, Pink, Brad Pitt, Elizabeth Daily, Hank Azaria, Matt Damon, Sofia Vergara
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
Warner Brothers Pictures
Helping Penguins and Pals;
How to Draw a Penguin;
I Taut I Taw a Putty Tat;
If the kiddoes can manage to tear away their mothers and big sisters, or maybe just escape with their fathers and big brothers, from this weekend's Twilight - Breaking Dawn Part 1 opening, they should find themselves as enamored with Happy Feet 2 as will be Teams Edward and Jacob with the latest and next-to-last in the Twilight films.
Happy Feet 2 is bigger, brighter, more colorful and even more musical than its predecessor. It's also more convoluted, loose and incredibly tangential. The chances are pretty great that the youngsters at whom the film is targeted will simply be electrified by a rhythm nation of dancing emperor penguins, but for anyone who requires a bit of cohesion this may end up being a somewhat confusing and disjointed cinematic exercise.
Happy Feet 2 has at its core the continuing story of our dancing Mumbles (Elijah Wood) and his now life mate Gloria (singer Pink, taking over for the late Brittany Murphy). The two are now parents to Erik (Ava Acres) and, even more surprising, the community that once shunned their dancing has now embraced it to the point that Erik's complete inability to do so becomes one of the film's key storylines. Erik ends up heading out on his own journey of self-discovery (sound familiar?) and encounters a hilariously grouchy elephant seal (Richard Carter).
In what seems to be for the most part a disconnected storyline, we then divert to a couple of Krill named Will (Brad Pitt) and Bill (Matt Damon). While these two krill are mostly indistinguishable from themselves or the others, they end up separating themselves mostly out of Will's delightfully witty, if mostly irrelevant, delusions of krill grandeur.
Finally, Lovelace (Robin Williams) returns from what he calls an "abduction" with a mysterious flying penguin named Sven (Hank Azaria) and, in keeping with Azaria's career-long devotion to lunacy and whacked out voices, this is a rather "sven"gali like penguin who charms the ladies and others with his Dr. Phil like presence filled with pop psychology and eloquent speech.
Into all of this, of course, we experience a variety of mashed up musical sequences from past and present including everything from Janet Jackson's "Rhythm Nation" to The Rivingtons' "Papa Oom Mow Mow" and even a surprisingly emotional piece of Tosca. Writer/Director George Miller fills the screen with wall to wall unbridled joy and vibrancy of color and spirit, though it's equally arguable that he falls short in actual substance. The film essentially evolves around the themes of friendship and the interdependence of community with a bit of environmental awareness tossed in since one isn't likely to go too far with social justice issues in the great white north. The messages here feel deeper than they did in Happy Feet, but far too often the music and the dancing dilutes an already paper thin message.
While the film's main storylines are rather disjointed, as individual threads they are almost uniformly delightful and well performed by Miller's top notch vocal cast. Newcomer Alecia Moore (Pink) fills in quite ably for the late Brittany Murphy, and Brad Pitt and Matt Damon clearly have a blast riffing off one another. While the Robin Williams shtick can occasionally go way too over-the-top in live action work, it seems practically tailor made for animation and certainly is a highlight here. The same is true for Azaria, one of Hollywood's most dependable and talented "voices" and an actor who has always had a willingness and ability to find the humanity in being completely outrageous.
Miller, a physician turned filmmaker who also gave us the Mad Max and Babe films among others, does a nice job of balancing devotion to the original film and yet managing to explore at least a nominal bit of new territory.
Adult audiences won't be quite as captivated with Happy Feet 2, but the kids may very well find it even more enjoyable as Miller and his production crew have created one of the most beautiful to behold animated films of the year even if it's not quite one of the best animated films of the year. Fun to watch, enjoyable to sing along with and almost painfully memorable, Happy Feet 2 will have you mumbling along with Mumbles, Gloria and their new son Erik as you and your kids leave the theatre.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic