(Published in City Express, The New Indian Express, dated 19 November, 2011, retrieved from http://expressbuzz.com/entertainment/reviews/Happy-Feet-2/334806.html)
Voice Cast: E G Daily, Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, P!nk, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Hank Azaria, Sofía Vergara, Common
Director: George Miller
Rating: 4 stars
How do you make a successful sequel to a hit animation film pegged on the cuteness of a tap-dancing penguin that can’t sing a note, and the idiocy of an Amigo that can do no right? Well, you bung in an even cuter baby penguin that gets uteruses doing flip-flops, and rouses the protective instincts of its ovary-less watchers. Then you chuck in a Flying Penguin that has enough star power to overshadow the drama-loving Ramón (Robin Williams). You garnish that with two idiots in place of the one.
Happy Feet Two, like most of its ilk, is the story of Erik (E G Daily), the son of Happy Feet protagonist Mumble (Elijah Wood). With enormous blue eyes and the tiniest little beak, this little fuzzy ball ensures that the most intelligible sound you make when he toddles into the screen is “aww”. As his mother Gloria (P!nk) sings her heart out, and his father taps his beats away, little Erik cowers when everyone laughs at his unintentionally comic antics.
Two of his friends, Boadica (Meibh Campbell) and Atticus (Lil P-Nut), the son of Seymour (rapper Common) try to cheer him up, and after a heart-to-heart – well, really a ear-to-heart – with Ramón, they end up in the land of Adele Penguins. Lovelace is there all right, but the role of the inspiring spiritual leader seems to have been conceded to The Mighty Sven (Hank Azaria), a bizarre character that has become legendary among penguins for learning to fly, to adapt to climate change. One-time shipmate and self-proclaimed saviour of Lovelace (also played by Robin Williams), and bête-noire of Ramón, Sven inspires Erik with a cliché that could only work on as naïve, idealistic and young a penguin as he: “If you want it, you must will it; if you will it, it will be yours.”
It’s up to Mumble, who’s already struggling to parent his odd-one-out son, to herd the truants back home. But then, catastrophe strikes, in the resolution of which an unlikely friendship, dangerous enemies and dependable brothers-in-arms play their roles. To its credit, the film – like its prequel – trusts its audience to handle reality, and smatters the narrative with close encounters with Darwinism.
The idea of the survival of the fittest, and the lesson therein, is best illustrated by the inspired inclusion of Will the Krill (Brad Pitt) and Bill the Krill (Matt Damon), whose hilarious misadventure, replete with sexual tension, has viewers in splits. The filmmakers have avoided character fatigue by making Lovelace a foil to Sven, and relegating the Amigos to much smaller roles – Ramón’s preoccupation this time round is winning the love of Carmen (Sofía Vergara).
The dialogues are infused with wordplay, almost to excess – from a will that “leaves everything to my imagination” to a declaration that “I’m a Carmen-only facility”, and modifications of everyday phrases – “point their flippers at you”, “plenty of krill in the sea”, “everything penguinly possible” and “fluff off”. Punctuated by trite sayings as the script may be, the experienced members of the voice cast will still make you laugh with lines like, “Let me revert back to what I said previously.”
E G Daily, reprising her voice role of a baby penguin, makes one want to scoop up Erik as he lisps, “Fluffy don’t float.” Robin Williams, delighting in his experimentation with accents, and the Brad Pitt-Matt Damon combine sink into their characters seamlessly. Elijah Wood plays the indecisive Mumble as well as he did the first time. But P!nk, replacing the late Brittany Murphy as Gloria, struggles to get under the skin of the strong character she voices, though she sings well enough. Sofía Vergara, whose distinct voice watchers of Modern Family will recognise, brings the oomph factor into Carmen.
The progress of technology, and the talent of animators, means every film of that genre just gets better – the rumble of a fat tummy, the gentle movement of fur on a penguin’s back, and the dilation of pupils, complete with the alteration of reflections in the irises, are exquisite. The shots of underwater life and intricacy of detail are awe-inspiring, and an interlude mostly in black-and-white is a study in the craft of cinematic excellence in animation.
So, is there a downside? Happy Feet Two could be rather hard to follow if you haven’t watched Happy Feet. The characters from the first movie are simply there, and their quirks don’t quite resonate. One wishes Sven had been filled out a little better too.
This edition is drastically different from the first, which was often reminiscent of March of the Penguins. Happy Feet Two only makes a passing mention of environmental issues such as oil slick and global warming, and the role of aliens (humans) is ambiguous at best; this aspect leaves no lasting impression. The audience needs to be prepared for just-another-adorable-animal-
story. However, it has the excellent sense not to bring in the romance angle.
While Happy Feet delighted viewers by modifying classics to suit the earworms of kids, Happy Feet Two seems to be a response to the Bieberisation of music. For instance, one of the songs adapted for this one is Justin Timberlake’s Sexyback. The ‘heartsongs’, which struck such a chord with listeners, have largely been replaced by rap and reggae, with a couple of notable exceptions.
However, the lovely scenes beg one to lose oneself in them, and the side-story of the krill sets the stage for a spinoff. So, go watch it, and keep your glasses on right up to the end of the credits. You’ll know why at the movie hall.