Happy Feet Two

by Joseph "Jay Dub" Wade

EXPECTATIONS: Remember how the first Happy Feet hid a bunch of atheistic, eco-friendly nonsense underneath a pop-music jukebox starring dancing penguins, and wound up winning an Oscar for it? If Happy Feet Two can muster even half of that weirdness this time around, then I'll be pleased. The last thing I want to see is Happy Feet go from a kids film packed with some surprisingly deep conversation-starters into an animated version of Glee...

REALITY: ...And I'll be damned if that isn't precisely what they did. Happy Feet Two feels like a film assembled by studio executives for the sole purpose of cashing in on the original (five years after the fact, but there it is). It takes everything people remember about Happy Feet, mashes it all up, throws in about twenty new songs out of the Lite FM songbook, and arranges everything with seemingly no rhyme or reason. The resulting stew is a disorganized, sloppy mess that I wouldn't even serve to children I hated.

Spoilers: they dance.

After finding his place in the penguin world, Mumble (Elijah Wood) is a happy husband and father dancing his days away in the Antarctic. His son Eric (Ava Acres) is still searching for his special talent, because it pretty clearly isn't singing or dancing. After humiliating himself in front of everyone, Eric and some other little penguins (including one voiced by Robin Williams) run away to a shoreline where they encounter The Mighty Sven (Hank Azaria), a puffin who fled the Arctic due to global warming. Sven presents himself as a self-help guru, telling everyone he's a penguin who taught himself to fly, and that "If you will it, it will be yours."

"Oh, okay," you might be telling yourself. "So this movie is going to keep pushing the eco-message while forcing the penguins to reinvent themselves, right?" Well hold on, because none of this has any bearing whatsoever on the actual plot of the film. After retrieving Eric and his friends, Mumble returns to the penguin community to find that a rogue iceberg has trapped everyone in a giant hole. Mumble, Eric, Sven and a bunch of other animals spend the rest of the film figuring out how to get all the penguins out of the hole. (So basically, it's an episode of Lassie.) Also, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon voice two krill who have nothing to do with the plot, yet are here anyway to add a little "Abbott and Costello Ponder The Universe" routine to our dancing-penguin movie.

Nothing to see here, just filler.Happy Feet Two seems only too eager to please. In fact, it feels desperate at times. There are roughly 300 songs crammed into the film, and every one of them is as warmed-over and overused as you can get. Have you ever wanted to hear Hank Azaria sing the "Numa Numa" song? How about a pack of elephant seals doing the theme from Rawhide? Or what about a fat penguin having what looks like a seizure while a human plays the guitar solo from "We Are the Champions"? (By the way, live-action humans return in this film and serve absolutely no purpose other than to give us the scene I just described.) These song choices feel arbitrary, like George Miller and his crew just picked the songs they were listening to at the time instead of what actually made sense for the movie.

Instead of letting the film breathe and build up to the next song-and-dance number, Happy Feet Two just keeps piling them on out of a sense of obligation to its audience. "They want more singing and dancing, so I guess we'll just give it to them..." After a while it becomes exhausting. There's practically no urgency to the plot to begin with, but when the characters break into yet another song, you just can't help but sigh and keep right on not caring. Happy Feet did a relatively decent job of defining its characters and giving them motivations, so when they sang or danced, you felt something because they felt something.

And then they ate him...Let me show you what I'm talking about. Here's a scene from Happy Feet in which baby Mumble teaches himself to dance. We're learning about his dancing right along with him; the music begins to swell, the camera zooms in, and slowly but surely we're off and running with a crazy tap-dancing routine. The CGI (and I'm sure some spirited motion-capture work) allowed the dancing to play out in a single unbroken shot, and there's a sense of discovery and elation in this one-minute scene that is nowhere to be found in the sequel. Compared to that scene, Happy Feet Two plays like a teenager shuffling through his iPod for that one perfect song and never finding it.

Worst of all, I'm afraid, is that Happy Feet Two simply isn't about anything. There are inklings here and there that the movie might delve into the dangers of global warming or oil spills or any number of issues that director George Miller might actually have handled in an interesting manner. These glimpses of a message fall by the wayside in favor of more singing and more dancing. Even the first film's tacit notion that religion might be dangerous is thrown completely out the window in favor of hollow platitudes like "If you will it, it will be yours," and "Every step counts," and "PAPA OOM MOW MOW, PAPA OOM MOW MOW!"

I've seen some truly deplorable and egregiously stupid films this year, but none has been as aggressively boring as Happy Feet Two. It's so sickeningly lighthearted that it wears out its welcome in about ten minutes, and when the chance for an interesting message comes along, it kicks that message square in the balls and keeps right on dancing. I can't believe I'm saying this, but you may actually be better off seeing this week's Twilight movie. Your kids might not appreciate the gesture, but they'll thank you when they're older.

3D Nonsense1/10
A Whale Devouring a Sea of Krill Shaped Like a Giant SkullWas Actually Pretty Cool

MINORITY REPORT: This strikes me as one of those films where the screenplay is just faithfully adapted from a list of "things kids like" that was compiled so long ago as to render it worthless. Penguins? "Numa Numa"? Robin Williams? Everything I mention sends us even further into the past. - Ian "Professor Clumsy" Maddison

- The Official Current Releases Facebook

– Joseph "Jay Dub" Wade (@JayDubSA)

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