by Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
We fell for the penguins in the first one. This second one fails to make us flip, but still flies away with our admiration — just not our adoration.
Happy Feet put its best feet forward. That’s not quite so true of Happy Feet Two.
The original was an exhilarating, eye-popping, toe-tapping, computer-animated, musical creature feature that won the Oscar for best animated feature in 2006.
The sequel is also exuberant and occasionally charming, but not to the same degree as its predecessor. It’s similarly aimed at viewers of every conceivable age, but this time the novelty doesn’t provide quite the same kick.
In the visually splendiferous follow-up, the landscape of frigid Antarctica is rendered in currently fashionable 3D.
Elijah Wood gives voice once again to Mumble, the tap-dancing penguin now trying to be a good dad to his chick son Erik, who is choreo-phobic and would rather fly than dance. That’s why he latches on to The Mighty Sven, voiced by Hank Azaria, apparently a beaked penguin who can fly.
Robin Williams, in manic mode, also returns as two characters, Lovelace and Ramon, while Matt Damon and Brad Pitt climb aboard the voice-talent train as crustaceans Will and Bill, a pair of shrimp-like krill featured in a not-quite-satisfying subplot about rebelling against the realities of the food chain that parallels the penguin story.
The thin plot finds a climate-change-affected ice shelf collapsing, putting the penguins in peril by trapping them in a steep-walled valley, necessitating interspecies cooperation and collective action among the penguins, elephant seals, and krill if they are to survive.
The theme of helping misfit children find their way in the world is a big part of the stimulatingly clever but frustratingly episodic script by director George Miller, Gary Eck, Warren Coleman, and Paul Livingston. As is an environmental message delivered with the help of several live-action inserts.
But eclectic Aussie co-writer, co-producer, and director Miller (Mad Max, Lorenzo’s Oil, The Witches of Eastwick, Babe: Pig in the City), who also co-directed Happy Feet, allows the sheer spectacle to overwhelm the storytelling at times.
Consequently, with so much forced charm on display and nary a light touch in sight (especially in the self-consciously spectacular musical numbers, which are meant to do nothing less than overwhelm), the more-is-less syndrome kicks in early on, and narrative momentum is in much shorter supply this time out.
Once again the sight of what looks, sounds, and seems like thousands of emperor penguins dancing on this frozen landscape, assisted mightily by motion-capture-assisted choreography (once again by Savion Glover), is quite a sight, and the feature that is wrapped around that spectacle is an impressive animated accomplishment, with a level of detail that is astonishing. But this outing is a lot easier to admire than to embrace.
Not that the kids will care.
So we’ll tap out 2½ stars out of 4 for another fandango of fun-filled family filmmaking, Happy Feet Two. This second helping of hoofing penguins is still a moderately funny and fitfully touching entertainment, it’s just not quite as happy a feat.