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Review: Happy Feet Two (2011)

Happy Feet Two (2011)

Directed by: George Miller

Premise: A sequel to the 2006 film. When glaciers shift, the community of penguins is trapped and it is up to Mumble (voice of Elijah Wood) and his son to rescue them.

What Works: The original Happy Feet was an overrated film but the sequel is in many ways an improvement. One of the major differences between the first and second film is the reliance on music. The first Happy Feet told the story of penguins who sang pop songs as a way of finding mates and integrating into the community. Although that is true in the second film, the music has been pushed to the sidelines, which is good because the singing of the first film was obnoxious. Here the music is used in the introduction and conclusion but rarely in between, and this turns out to be a case of less is more. Another area of improvement in Happy Feet Two is the plotting. The story of the original film was wobbly and it inelegantly shifted between a Hero’s Journey and an Ugly Duckling narrative. Unlike most sequels, which are usually bigger and broader, Happy Feet Two is more focused than its predecessor. It introduces a specific problem and sets its hero to work in an attempt to solve it. Although the plot isn’t elaborate, the story of Happy Feet Two does put more at stake and it builds effectively toward the ending. Also improved in this film are the characters. When this sequel picks up the story, Mumble has become a father and he struggles with his role as a parent. Also retained from the first film are Ramon and Lovelace, voiced by Robin Williams. Happy Feet Two uses Williams more judiciously than the first film and so he does not wear out his welcome as he did in original. New to Happy Feet Two is Sven (voice of Hank Azaria), a smooth talking leader from another penguin community, and Will and Bill (voice of Brad Pitt and Matt Damon), a pair of neurotic krill who undertake an existential quest. The Will and Bill storyline is very funny and they provide much of the best material in the film.

What Doesn’t: Although Happy Feet Two is an improvement from its predecessor, it is a competent film, not a great one. Contemporary animated films can generally be lumped into one of three categories. First are films like Madagascar, which are kiddy cartoons whose audiences are solely children. These films little more (and often less) than the programming on Saturday morning television. Second are pictures like Rango that attempt to tell more mainstream stories and appeal to both children and adults. These films aspire to live action Hollywood dramas and comedies and often end up equaling them, both for better and for worse. In the last category are films like WALL-E that push the animation genre into an art form. Happy Feet Two fits in the second category of animation. It has some very impressive animated work but it also falls into some of the traps of Hollywood sequels: it attempts to recapitulate the original film, it resists doing anything truly interesting or challenging, and it has the plastic feel of an industrial product rather than the organic texture of vibrant narrative.

Bottom Line: Happy Feet Two is a satisfying film and those who liked the original should check it out. It’s not a great movie but this is a pretty good film for a family movie night.

Episode: #367 (December 11, 2011)