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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Feet Two (Release Date: 11-18-2011)

        There are a lot of different things that a flick could do to prompt its audience to ask, 'what is this movie about?' It could be a languid, slow-moving indie, along the lines of Sophia Coppola or Gus Van Sant, or a piece dealing in psychedelics and symbolism, in the vein of David Lynch or Terrance Malick. Then again, it could just be Happy Feet Two, the sequel to 2006's Best Animated Feature Oscar-winner Happy Feet. I've spent a decent amount of brain power over the last few days trying to land on a sufficient plot summary for what the singing, dancing penguins have cooked up this time around, but brevity of explanation still alludes me. We'll give this a try:

        Mumble (Elijah Wood) and Gloria (Pop singer P!nk, taking over for the late Brittany Murphy) are pretty much right where we left them, dancing and singing along with the thousands of Emperor Penguins whom they call neighbors. They've even got a little one named Erik (Ava Acres) who, like baby Mumble in the previous film, struggles to fit in with the group. Fearing permanent ostracization, Erik and a couple of friends leave the pack, their misadventures leading them to Sven (Hank Azaria), a puffin posing as a penguin who uses fancy speech and the power of flight to both inspire and seduce. Mumble manages to track them down, but while away on his quest, he whole heard of Emperors becomes trapped by the movement of giant slabs of ice, global warming the clear culprit. Oh, and there's a subplot involving a pair of rebellious krill (Brad Pitt and Matt Damon), who may or may not have anything to do with the rest of the movie.

        Trust me, there are more subplots to be discovered, ranging from human intervention, to promise-breaking Elephant Seals, to the schism between omnivores and herbivores (The Brad Pitt Krill is obsessed with moving up the food chain, declaring at one point that, 'the next thing I eat will have a face). And yet, all the wile, the singing and dancing numbers somehow manage to make their way into this over-stuffed plot. Trust me, I would rather have a movie work overtime to earn my adoration than simply cash in on simple gags attached to a simple story, but Director George Miller and the screenwriting team of four simply don't have what it takes to tie this thing together. It's a film that's equal parts about gyrating aquatic birds, and the need to find one's self within the establish parameters of society, with a hefty helping of environmental PSA dispersal (though, to be fair, a far more subtle helping than in the first entry.

        Happy Feet Two isn't a bad movie by any means, but it stacks the chips against itself from the beginning by trying to be a transcendent, important, massive family entertainment, and falling woefully short. Still, the tale is intriguing (if often in spite of itself), and the animation is nothing short of stunning. The scenes with the krill, especially, mine the odd beauty of the arctic seas for all that they're worth, and several actions sequences play particularly well. Oh, and there's a whole lot of cuteness to go around, too, many a mushy, 'ahhh,' escaping from your mouth before you even know what's happening. Happy Feet Two may fall short of its lofty expectations for itself, but that doesn't make it a bad watch. Like the scene in which that same Brad Pitt Krill decides to chow down on a Leopard Seal, it just bites off way, way more than it could ever hope to chew.

Grade: B-

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