George Miller’s sequel to his wildly successful, Academy Award-winning animated feature Happy Feet (2006) returns with star-fueled funny and the same motion-capture dance choreography that endeared audiences the first time around but it lacks ambition and drive is an after thought, scattered by too many captains at the wheel. It is only through Miller’s visual fortitude and PG family sensibilities that the film stays the course, hitting franchise familiar and cliché equally while capitalizing on the same command of pop-culture abandon that’s earned the filmmaker much respect and adoration. Where lesser skippers would have surely been lost at sea, Miller’s ability to create space and then fill it with happenings and spectacle speaks to a long tradition of adventure building with richly charismatic characters from all genres in films like Babe, Lorenzo’s Oil and the Mad Max franchise. However it is this very sense of wide openness and indefinite boundaries that undermines any broad appeal for the sequel. Instead Happy Feet 2 mostly caters to fans and first timers who already know or are willing to accept the films brand of humor, airy antics and meaningful environmental messages. For everyone else there is just enough humor, heart and charm between a non-stop barrage of song and dance numbers to invariably give you something to like about the film. Even the harshest critics are hard pressed to completely devalue the film’s undercurrent sense of smiles.
Much of what troubles Happy Feet 2 is not really a flaw as it is an inherent focus on lackadaisical. What makes this an issue is that it often comes across like overly confident and detached, smugly resting on the laurels of early successes in place of setting out for new waters or exploring broader themes. Reviewing the list of writers on the film, credited and not, suggests too many opinions with too many tangled subplots that were never fully held in check, considered and refined. It feels as though all the good ideas that were ever brainstormed were left in to the dismay of clarity and the ruin of brevity. Most animated films outside Pixar would benefit from ample editing, trimming those little added bits of artist’s speechifying and cause-making. The result is a sea of soap box environmentalism mixed with random for the sake of it, and then an attempt at social bridge building by way of tangled new characters that only really take away from our lovable favorites with gimmicky caricatures. Absent the focus of the first, distracted from much development beyond what’s already been done, characters and scenarios end up drowning in pop-culture everything without really saying anything. Yet fans will find what they are looking for and others will get there by the effort they put into. Strangers will surely stumble, look the other way and often never get to the end. Smiles will nevertheless endure, escape a little and then a lot, lose time and remember what it was like to be a kid again when it was OK to enjoy this much shameless adventure.
It’s hard to be overly critical of a movie about talking, dancing and singing penguins that look like these guys. The animation is amazing, the musical elements and sequences are grand and silly and much of what ails you can be cured by losing yourself in this movie. There are so many all-star voices it’s easy to miss just how many big names are the voices in the film – from John Goodman (The Beach Master, voice) to Hugo Weaving (Noah the elder, voice) to Brad Pitt and Matt Damon as the Krills. You couldn’t squeeze in another celebrity voice in the film if you tried but this is a plus and it goes a long way in giving the characters something more than the sum of their parts, though admittedly Robin Williams and Hank Azaria’s stereotypical banter should offend more than it has. If you get sidetracked long enough looking for things to be critical about you’ll find much to bag on, though for every poor choice or questionable bit you end up wondering how much of it all you’re bringing with you into the theater. Happy Feet 2 is another film that serves fans and followers well to enjoy the seconds of it, get into the now of it all rather than look for what is missing or toil over your disappointments. Happy Feet 2 won’t make it into everyone’s cherished movie collection but those for whom it does, will find repeat viewings no doubt just as rewarding an opportunity.
Blu-ray or Not to Blu-ray:
Most animated features are going to enjoy Blu-ray and that is definitely the case here. The film is beautifully rendered in amazing details that enliven characters and place with very nearly the experience that the filmmakers intended. This is the best possible choice in home theater movie collection and with the Combo Pack that contains copies of the movie on Blu-ray, DVD and the Digital copy/UltraViolet digital download you have everything you’re going to need to enjoy the movie time and time again at home, on the road and just about anywhere you choose. The bonus materials are plenty and the additional features provided by the format give viewers many ways to enjoy the work.
Warner Home Video, a division of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Inc., invited me to join their exclusive Blu-ray Elite Movie Review Program and they sent me a complimentary copy of this movie for the purpose of review with special attention on the “Blu-ray Experience”. I received this video for free, but that does not sway this review or the reviews of other films that will follow.