Five years ago, Happy Feet opened, and I didn’t know what to think. What looked like a little kiddie musical ended up being, well, a kiddie musical, but not one that could ever be described as small. For a movie about an outcast (Mumble, voiced by Elijah Wood) growing up and finding his voice, Happy Feet escaped the droll, played-out tropes that its recycled premise imply. Instead, it had all the weight of a World changing for the worse, which only worked to add a supremely weird but successful sense of humor.
That director George Miller would attempt to strike gold twice seemed like a gamble; but though Happy Feet Two doesn’t live up to its predecessor, it does take another unimaginative story and builds it up into a massive film with fantastic moments.
This time around, Mumble is all grown-up, and even has a son (Erik). Erik has inherited his Father’s awkward inability to take part in the regular Penguin All-Dancin’, All-Singin’ Boogies, and Mumble can only do so much to encourage his boy to discover the passions that will make him a valuable member of the ever-running Musical Revue that this Penguin Society runs on.
But after a catastrophe of Global Warming leads to trap the Penguin homeland from the Sea – their only source of food – Erik and Mumble (and a fat, adorable penguin youth) are forced to rescue their peoples (penguins).
But as dull as the plot is, it’s further dulled by an unnecessary sideplot that charts the rebellion of two Krill (Matt Damon, Brad Pitt) rebelling against their lives to forge their own existence. That sounds epic, but it just devolves into some clichéd dialouge and a failed homosexual subtext.
This could all easily be an episode of Spongebob Squarepants, but Happy Feet Two doesn’t feel like it should only last eleven minutes. There are a lot less humongous musical moments in the sequel, but the ones that do appear bring a gravity to the setting that lends credence to the main storyline. Highlights include when some Penguin Chicks bring “Fluffy Back,” and when a Voodoo Doctor penguin (voiced by Robin Williams, who’s just too well-suited for the voice-acting medium) Gospels to his people about the origin of his hand-knit Rainbow sweater. Also, Hank Azaria voices a Swedish Puffin, which is pretty great to listen to.
It’s all completely ludicrous, but what makes the Happy Feet movies so successful is the absurd humor it has about itself. We never needed another movie where animals sing to overcome the challenges of Man or Nature. But Miller makes it sort of enthralling with a super-serious tone that supersizes what’s inherently funny about an overweight Macaroni Crested Penguin air guitaring to Queen into something extra funny.