Why are these movies so depressing? Having seen both Happy Feet films, I have left both with a sense of puzzling sadness. That takes some effort considering the central basis for the films are talking, singing penguins. But both films have also had unsettling agendas, putting our beloved penguins in mortal danger that no rendition of “We Are the Champions” can overcome. If these plots consisted of any animals other than penguins, would anyone even watch this stuff?
This time around Mumble (voiced by Wood), the penguin struggling to find his place in the community in the first film, is now an adult. His son, Erik (voiced by Ava Acres), is facing similar struggles. After all, who couldn’t struggle when you’re the one (out of hundreds) penguin that can’t dance in unison? Frustrated, Erik and a few of his friends leave their home to seek acceptance in another penguin colony. After they leave, however, their home becomes surrounded on all sides by shifting glaciers. It’s up to Mumble and the kids to find a way to save their fellow penguins.
From a narrative standpoint, Happy Feet Two is all over the place. We have Mumble, Erik, and all of their social problems, we have the trapped penguins, we have the other civilization of penguins, and we have a parallel story involving Bill (voiced by Matt Damon) and Will (voiced by Brad Pitt), two krill who are looking to work their way up the food chain. They have a few amusing moments, but the whole thing feels like a way for Warner to branch this series off down the line a la Ice Age.
The underlying issue in both films is that the penguins are placed in very unpleasant situations and the dance numbers feel like mindless distractions. Take away the singing and dancing and you basically have a climate change cautionary tale with no laughs to speak of. And speaking of those songs, Happy Feet Two features a pretty weak collection of annoying pop numbers that grow tiring in a hurry. It’s 2011 and making it through a full interpretation of “Under Pressure” is going to be a challenge, no matter the circumstances.
Happy Feet Two should keep younger kids reasonably entertained, especially if they’re too young to fully comprehend the peril that the penguins are in. The animation is outstanding, with lush environments and great attention to detail. It’s definitely the best part of this otherwise routine and dreary production. Penguins are cute and fluffy, these we all agree on, but parents should not have to have an explanation ready for why some of the penguins are willing to die to escape their predicament.
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Length: 100 Minutes
Rating: PG for some rude humor and mild peril.
Theatrical Release: November 18, 2011
Directed by: George Miller
Written by: Warren Coleman & Gary Eck & Paul Livingston & George Miller.
Cast: Elijah Wood (voice), Robin Williams (voice), Hank Azaria (voice), Alecia Moore (Pink) (voice), Sofia Vergara (voice)