I was in the minority that found the original Happy Feet (2006) to be barely amusing, a film in which astonishing computer animation was put in service to a weak, formulaic story built around Glee-like recycling of pop hits. Minority? Hell, the damn thing won the Oscar (and the New York Film Critics Circle award, though I believe I was voting for Monster House that year).
Still, I can't imagine that Happy Feet Two, opening Friday (11/18/11), will charm any but the youngest viewers. It has less plot than an hour of Sesame Street, fewer jokes than a Republican presidential debate -- and astonishing computer animation, this time in wholly unnecessary 3D.
In the original, Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood) was an outcast Emperor penguin because he couldn't sing -- but he could tap-dance. And so he found true love with the flock's best singer, Gloria (the late Brittany Murphy).
In this sequel, Mumble is now an adult, married to Gloria (singer Pink). He still can't sing but he has the whole flock tap-dancing. But when the visiting rock penguin Ramon (Robin Williams) leaves to go back to his own people, Mumble's hatchling Erik and his two little pals follow.
Mumble sets out to bring them back -- but when they return, he finds that the whole flock has been cut off from food and the rest of Antarctica by shifting icebergs, which have trapped them in a steep-walled valley. So it's up to him to save them.
And that's it. It's so simple that it's simple-minded. There's barely even the eco-consciousness about climate change that was the first film's subtext; don't want to stir up those "See? Hollywood is liberal!" types again, I guess.
The only glimmer of wit in this whole movie comes with a pair of new characters, Will and Bill, a couple of krill, which are microscopic shrimp-like creatures that travel in huge swarms, to be inhaled and digested by whales. Will, however, longs to be a predator, and convinces the nervous Bill to follow him in leaving the swarm behind.
The writing for Will and Bill is actually quite amusing -- and the animation is stunning, reminiscent of the over-the-top adventures of Skrat in the Ice Age films. But the voice actors, particularly Brad Pitt as Will, lack the comic-cartoon energy required of a character this exaggerated. So the characters' adventures are funnier in concept than in execution.
Which still makes them more amusing than all of the rest of Happy Feet Two combined.
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