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By Tiffiny Whitney · November 21, 2011
I admit upfront that I have never seen Happy Feet, the predecessor to the aptly-titled Happy Feet Two; however, I am happy to report that it stands on its own as a sequel that doesn’t necessarily require very much knowledge of the original before going in. Aside from my personal feelings about how wrong it is to have baby penguins sing about “bringing sexy back,” and though it’s a bit slow in parts with mostly thin characterization, Happy Feet Two is all-around a funny film that overtly capitalizes (successfully) off the cuteness of its penguin protagonists. Though not the greatest to learn from in terms of really grasping the craft of screenwriting, as far as being an enjoyable day at the movies, Happy Feet Two succeeds at delighting audiences with its arctic menagerie of penguins, puffins, elephant seals, and krill—voiced by some pretty big name talent, including Robin Williams, Elijah Wood, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon.
Happy Feet Two follows the story of a little emperor penguin named Erik (voiced by Ava Acres), who is the son of the main character from the first film, Mumble (Elijah Wood). Life is a happy adventure for the penguins, except for Erik’s growing pains as a less-than-skilled dancer and as a shy and insecure little penguin unsure of his place in the world. In an effort to escape those who mock him in the penguin colony, Erik and two friends flee the community in pursuit of their Uncle Ramon (a flamboyant penguin voiced by Robin Williams). Mumble, afraid for his son’s welfare, tracks his son and friends to another penguin community where they encounter Sven, a puffin, who has inspires Erik that, even though he is a penguin, he can fly if he only puts his mind to it.
While away from the colony, an iceberg breaks and isolates the emperor penguin community in a massive valley of ice, preventing them from escaping and potentially even threatening to eliminate the colony through the possibility of starvation. Though a rather formidable task, little Erik and his father, Mumble, take it upon themselves to try any way possible to save their penguin brethren. With the help of some elephant seals, krill, and a whole lot of hope, the animals of the arctic engage in their greatest challenge yet—to fight against global warming itself (though not overtly stated), and to find a way for life to go on even though it has been changed forever.
Though it is a strength that Happy Feet Two can stand on its own independent of the original, it is certainly not its greatest strength. In fact, the film suffers form some major overall problems, particularly its thin character development. This may be symptomatic of the fact that the film is a sequel and a good portion of character development may have been done in the first film. In fact, this is likely the case with the film’s protagonist, Mumble, who is the main character of both this and the first film. Even so, this is not necessarily acceptable. With a protagonist, it is fine that they begin as relatively “weak”—but they need to grow stronger as the film progresses. And though Mumble displays a sense of persistence throughout the film, much of the action is derived from external forces and his minimal reaction to them. In fact, much of the “strength” of the film’s characters come from those around him (for example, his son and the other penguins), and Mumble seems to simply follow along.
Happy Feet Two does work on many levels however, even though the plot itself is fairly uncomplicated and rather thin. In fact, it’s this “uncomplicated” feature that works as a strength, because of its large conceptual plot objectives, which are simple enough for two-year-olds to grasp yet enjoyable for their parents. Additionally, if you add singing and dancing (which we all know little kids and Broadway fans love), and couple it with undeniably cute, animated penguins—you realistically cannot have a failed movie (even if one of the songs is bad—because one of them is… really). Though I wouldn’t say Happy Feet Two has stellar strengths in terms of storytelling, it does have some great one-liners, particularly from one of the animated krill referring to dancing as being an “a momentary relief from the existential terrors of existence.”
And really, you cannot say “no” to a cute baby penguin. Just. Not. Possible. So, especially if you’re looking for something cute and “family friendly” to take the kids to over Thanksgiving weekend—Happy Feet Two is a sure bet. It may not be the greatest film of all time, or of this year, or of this month, or even this week—but overall it has a great moral story about persisting through adversity, the penguins do not swear, and the songs are kinda catchy. An inoffensive and adorable exercise in weekend escapism (aside from the slight undertones of global warming and the negative impact of humanity on the natural world), Happy Feet Two is a bearable film with toe-tapping moments and unapologetic exploitation of cute baby animals.