“Sometimes you have to back up to go forward”
It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I loathed Happy Feet. As a concept the film seemed quite solid—cute penguins dancing, a modern soundtrack to tap along with, the comedy stylings of Robin Williams—but the final result was an ambush of politics and sexuality I’m not quite sure belongs in a film targeted towards children. Its ugly duckling mantra of finding yourself and treading your own path no matter what does inspire, but George Miller and company couldn’t let it end there. Tacking on an epilogue pushing the idea of global warming and scaring kids into becoming environmentalists was an underhanded agenda that I’m sure sabotaged many a family day at the movies.
But it was marketable, featured characters that could sing—something strangely absent in children’s fare this past decade—and had the foolproof notion of everyone loving penguins behind it. A sequel was inevitable and admittedly frightened me to think what it would bring. Would Happy Feet Two be another thinly veiled attempt to inject liberal ideas into the youth of America while showcasing music most parents don’t even want their teenagers to listen to? It’s not like I would rather have a conservative message infused by religion either—that may actually be worse. I just don’t want to see politics of any kind usurping art aimed at children without giving the adults a chance to say no when they clamor for the cute little penguins on TV.
I sincerely hoped this go-round would acknowledge its genre and decide to bask in its position to teach morals about friendship, courage, and bravery. And for the most part it does. The song selection features a heavy dose of Queen mixed with an eclectic list spanning “Papa Oom Mow Mow” to “Rawhide” to a Justin Timberlake offshoot ‘bringing fluffy back’. Fun has replaced contemporary as the soundtrack is less aimed at attracting a demographic caught between the youthful exuberance of childhood and the introspective desire of older teens reliving it who deem it uncool to see this type of film than in grabbing the tenuous attentions of youngsters looking to have a good time. This is what the Happy Feet franchise should be about: messages bringing young people of different cultures together through the intrinsic human need for expression.
There are ill-conceived moments utilizing the creepy live action hybrid model in the original to try and turn audiences vegan as well as show the melting icecaps and selfishness of humanity leaving a community of helpless birds behind, but I can forgive it this time because they’re placed at the start. Unlike the first, this story isn’t distracting us as it progresses towards a manifesto of going green. Instead, these little mentions of ‘atrocities’ are plot points to infer on the motivations of certain characters. Also, the fact that fish and krill genocide is glorified adds a bit of tongue-in-cheek to stop me from taking the propaganda so seriously. I was actually able to invest myself in the Antarctic community and enjoy their journey of survival and kinship this time. The random comedy relief courtesy of Matt Damon and Brad Pitt definitely helped in that regard too.
Their inclusion is a weird point in itself. All marketing material spotlights their Will and Bill to make sure everyone sees A-list names—yes, even the soundtrack cover showcases them at the top. It’s an odd move matching the opening song and dance credit sequence that shows every actor’s name as well as the character played. Why does this matter? We don’t go to animated films to enjoy vocal performances of actors we like. We go to escape into an imaginative world without limitations. Happy Feet Two tries so hard to be something it’s not in this regard, packaging star power as an advertising tool to kids who would probably be more excited to hear “SpongeBob SquarePants’s” Tom Kenny than heartthrobs and Top 40 hitmakers. That said, despite their interludes having little bearing on the actual plot at hand, Pitt and Damon’s rapport is far and away the film’s highlight for adults in the audience.
And speaking of plot, it might be good to mention it for all who care. With nothing crazy to report, the story structure mimics its predecessor by having Mumbles (Elijah Wood) and Gloria’s (Pink filling the void of Brittany Murphy’s absence) son Erik (Ava Acres) wonder what his ‘talent’ could be. Not one to feel the beat in song or dance like the Emperor penguins surrounding him, it is the ‘sky’s the limit’ mentality of newcomer Sven (Hank Azaria) that captivates him to shoot for the stars. Coupled with this ugly duckling redux also comes a subplot with Ramon (Williams) looking for love; an iceberg threatening to annihilate Mumbles and Erik’s entire clan; and the true origins of Sven’s odd, flying penguin. Interwoven with welcome interruptions by Will and Bill the Krills, the simple story is allowed to exist on its own merits without giving audiences too much time to wish for more.
Even so, one cannot deny a yearning for the intricacy of captivating tales from Pixar or even Dreamworks. Song and dance can only get you so far when they’re only buffering the equivalent of a short film into a 105-minute feature. Strip them away and not much is left besides fun performances from Williams and Azaria playing with accents and Richard Carter’s entertaining Bryan the Beachmaster. I would rather the filmmakers have made Azaria’s Sven a villain so humanity wouldn’t look the part and increase feelings we are destroying the environment and cute animals everywhere, but what can you do? I’m just ecstatic that Miller and his screenwriters were able to reach inside themselves for some funny in their creation of those star-studded, microscopic crustaceans. Animated to perfection—as the entire film is too—I would see a Will and Bill spin-off without hesitation.
 (L-r) Mumble, voiced by ELIJAH WOOD; and Erik, voiced by AVA ACRES, in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Village Roadshow Pictures’ animated family comedy adventure “HAPPY FEET TWO,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
 (L-r) Will the Krill, voiced by BRAD PITT; and Bill the Krill, voiced by MATT DAMON, in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Village Roadshow Pictures’ animated family comedy adventure “HAPPY FEET TWO,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
 The Mighty Sven, voiced by HANK AZARIA, in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Village Roadshow Pictures’ animated family comedy adventure ‘HAPPY FEET TWO,’ a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures