After the success of 2006’s Happy Feet, it has taken almost five years for a sequel to arrive, Warners will be banking that the draw of cute penguins will overcome competition in the crowded 3D digimation market this Christmas.
Once again we are back in the Antarctic where footloose and fancy free emperor penguins are putting on a show. The last film’s central couple Mumble (Wood) and Gloria (Pink, replacing the late Brittany Murphy) now have their own chick, Erik, to raise. For some reason Mumble still appears to be a partially fluffy adolescent, but I guess that makes him easier to distinguish. Like his father before him, Erik is having trouble with his dance moves. After running away from the colony, Mumbles pursues him, and it initially looks like we will get a copy of the plot of Finding Nemo. However melting ice causes an iceberg to trap the colony and soon Mumbles, Erik and a number of colourful friends must try and find a way to save the Emperors from starvation.
Happy Feet Two is full of A-list voice talent, features spectacular animation and stunning 3D landscapes that are close to photo realistic. Why then, does the result feel so lacklustre and unengaging? Partly it is the fault of a disjointed and randomly plotted story. While amazing amounts of effort and care have clearly gone into the technical aspects of the film, the narrative feels disjointed and thrown together. There is a preponderance of “stuff” happening, but it takes far too long to settle down into a groove, with an excessive amount of supporting characters who turn up, do a turn, and then fade into the background.
There are too many supporting characters fighting for attention. Williams plays two, neither of which make much comic impact. Hank Azaria plays stranded Puffin Sven, who has convinced the penguins he is a penguin who can fly. Azaria chooses a bizarre accent that seems part German, part Dutch, and part Icelandic. There is also a parallel storyline involving two Krill, Will (Pitt) and Bill (Damon). This story exists separately from that of the penguins and barely connects with it at all. Will wants to break away from the Krill swarm and be unique, his friend Bill follows and tries to persuade him to go back. This storyline develops a gay subtext so strong, the film eventually is forced to acknowledge it, before getting sheepish and stuffing it straight back into the closet again.
The song and dance routines fail to impress. Music selections feel dated, and there isn’t enough dancing for a film called Happy Feet! Considering that Frozen Planet meets Strictly is the films’ USP, this is a real problem. With far too many medleys in the film it just fails to satisfy as a musical.
Perhaps my biggest issue is a complete lack of suspense and threat. An incident early in the film suggests genuine danger, but the film so comprehensively bottles out at this point (you will know exactly what I mean if you see it) that from that point onwards the audience knows nothing bad is going to happen, and everything will be fine. Not only does this mean the film is consequently dull because there are no stakes to play for, it also completely ruins any attempt at the serious environmental message no doubt used to persuade people like Pitt and Damon to play talking prawns! One can only conclude that had George Miller directed Bambi, the huntsman would have missed his shot.
On the plus side, the 3D Looney Toons cartoon playing in front of the film is quite good.