Happy Feet Two

It took years to make Happy Feet Two and it shows: the screen shines with grip-the-seat action, zany characters, hilarious dialogue, and plenty of Hallmark moments. The musical numbers are toe-tapping sing-alongs—except for the unexpected operatic aria which is simply awesome. The visual imagery is stupendous—glistening vistas of glaciers and undersea life, marvelously detailed birds and animals, and millions of pixilated snow crystals glittering like diamond chips.

The film’s messages are worthy: “Beware global warming and fake evangelists,” and “Cooperation among everybody on Earth is good.” There are so many things the Happy Feet Two filmmakers did right—it’s a darn shame that they don’t all add up to a must-see family movie. More on that in a moment.

First, to the surprise treat before the movie: just like the old days, a cartoon precedes the feature attraction. This time it’s a new 3-D Looney Tunes gem. I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat captures the furious fur and feather match between Tweety Bird, the bratty canary, and Sylvester, the cat who wants to eat her. There’s nothing politically correct about this wonderful cartoon—it’s just as wild and subversive as the old ones. What a thrill to see these characters tearing up the screen again.

Back to Happy Feet Two. The first Happy Feet from 2006 won the Oscar for best animated feature. It was cheery and vibrant with a clear, accessible storyline—a young oddball Emperor penguin, named Mumble (voice by Elijah Wood), wanted to dance. Flash forward five years. In Happy Feet Two the penguins—millions of them—now dance and sing all the time. Except pint-size Erik (voice by Ava Acres), Mumble’s fluffy son, who can’t tap like Dad or sing like Mom (the singer Pink). He worries he will never be a special chick. Resonating with Erik’s misery is Ramon (voice of Robin Williams), a daffy, lovesick Adelie penguin. The two of them run away across the icy terrain.

Not a good idea, with global warming threatening to ruin your day. A rumbling chunk of ice, the size of Manhattan, crashes into the sea. The colony is instantly trapped in a canyon of ice. Without access to the ocean and its fish, all the Emperor penguins, elders and babies alike, will die.

Oblivious to the ecological disaster behind them, Erik and Ramon find themselves in the nearby Adelie colony, which is going gaga over a charismatic red-beaked bird who claims he’s a penguin who can fly. The Mighty Sven (voice of Hank Azaria) convinces his rapt audience that they, too, can fly. All they have to do, he insists, is “Will it.”

Mumble arrives in the midst of this New Age goofiness and tries to take Erik home. Their escape over a treacherous ice bridge is blocked by a bull-headed elephant seal named Bryan the Beachmaster (voice of Richard Carter). Mumble risks his life to save the seal, delivering him in one piece back to his two adorable pups. In yet another subplot, in the surging ocean waves below, two red-alert krill buddies (voices by off-screen pals Brad Pitt and Mat Damon) are having a crustacean bromance with dialogue so comical that all the adults in the theatre were laughing.

Alas, none of the kids were—and this is the problem of Happy Feet 2. It’s not for kids. Co-written and directed by George Miller, who helmed the first Happy Feet and before that the manic Aussi Mad Max films, Happy Feet Two is so full of thrill-a-minute action and edgy dialogue that tykes can’t follow it. It’s just too much. Kids want simple, urgent story lines, with enough quiet time to help them feel smart about knowing what’s happening. They tune out when a movie is so constantly clever it’s over their heads.

Just because it’s labeled “family” film doesn’t mean you have to take the kids. My advice? Hire a babysitter and see Happy Feet 2 for yourself.

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