Those adorably feisty flightless birds are back at it – tapping their webbed feet, shaking their tail feathers and breaking into boisterous renditions of pop songs in the entertaining sequel to Happy Feet, the Oscar-winning animated feature that wrapped its "planet in peril" message in an Antarctica-set story of romance, adventure and self-discovery.
Happy Feet 2 is directed by distinguished Australian filmmaker George Miller, who has a solid sequel track record. Yet while The Road Warrior (the best of the Mad Max trilogy) and Babe: Pig In The City (the darker followup to the more cuddly Babe, which Miller wrote and produced) truly furthered their heroes' stories, HF2 regurgitates themes from the original – albeit with a few new moves, new scene-stealing characters and requisite 3-D presentation, an unnecessary enhancement to otherwise stellar CGI animation.
We return to the Emperor penguin colony to find chick Erik (Ava Acres) stumbling towards his own creative path, as his dad Mumbles (Elijah Wood) did in the original film. Thus follows a well-worn father-son story, with Erik encountering various potential male role models before realizing that Mumbles, a star dancer but a bumbling father, has the right stuff. (It's a given here that females – like Erik's mom, voiced by Alecia Moore aka the singer Pink – have it all figured out and don't need story arcs.)
Erik and two pals waddle after Adelie immigrant Ramon (Robin Williams, also voicing charismatic Rockhopper penguin Lovelace), who decides to go home after striking out with the Emperor ladies. They arrive to discover a mesmerizing foreign interloper, Sven (Hank Azaria, voice star of The Simpsons), is preaching self-actualization with a strong Nordic accent and dazzling the Adelie colony with his gift of flight.
Sven says he's a rare species. He may be black and white but Sven's definitely no penguin. Erik, like the Adelie colony, is convinced that he too can fly, but Mumbles, who has volunteered to bring the kids home, is skeptical. ( Chicken Run definitely informs the scene in which Sven blithely guides the penguins to attempt flight, knowing all the while their vestigial wings won't function.)
Meanwhile, seismic shifts (earthquakes, melting polar ice-packs) have caused the Emperor colony to become trapped in a large sinkhole surrounded by high ice cliffs. When Mumbles and the chicks return, they must call upon old and new friends and their own wiles to find solutions to not only feed the colony but help them escape to live another day.
There is definitely something oddly moving about CGI-animated penguins singing heart-songs to their mates and offspring and working collectively, through musical numbers, to solve life-threatening problems. And aside from talking, singing, dancing and intellectual thought, these penguins otherwise closely mimic the agile moves and behaviours of their real-life counterparts.
But in Happy Feet 2, outsiders steal the show. Sven is a standard-issue infiltrator. Will and Bill's excellent adventure is the subplot that brings home the movie's metaphor.
Will and Bill are krill, shrimp-like creatures, who decide against all odds to leave the swarm. They look alike and, more importantly, sound alike, thanks to Ocean's 11 castmates Brad Pitt and Matt Damon, who have uncannily similar vocal pitches and who recorded their dialogue in the same sessions, accounting for a chemistry unmatched elsewhere in the film.
Pitt and Damon deliver the best lines (wisecracks about the food chain, predators and evolution, etc.) but their characters also represent most of us. The film reminds viewers young and old that to make a positive change, sometimes the little guy at the bottom of the food chain needs to stomp his feet.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Happy Feet Two 3D
- Directed by George Miller
- Screenplay by George Miller, Gary Eck, Warren Coleman and Paul Livingston
- Starring the voices of Elijah Wood, Alecia Moore, Robin Williams, Ava Acres, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Hank Azaria, Hugo Weaving, Richard Carter and Anthony LaPaglia
- Classification: PG