Movie Review: Singing dancing penguins trip over themselves in “Happy Feet 2”

“Happy Feet Two” is to 2006’s “Happy Feet” what “Babe: Pig in the City” was to “Babe,” a clever and adorable original film remade with most of the charm wrung out of it.2stars

The conceit — that penguins each have their own special song which they use to woo members of the opposite sex, save for one penguin (voiced by Elijah Wood) who can’t sing a lick, but who can dance — is pretty much abandoned for a muddled sequel about trapped penguins and inter-species cooperation, all in the name of “adapt or die.”

Yeah, global warming is still a subtext (over-fishing no longer is). But now responsibility passes to the critters if they want to survive.

The songs are weaker — classic rock exchanged for generic pop, first generation hip hop (“Momma Said Knock You Out” freely adapted) and moldy oldies (“Papa Oom Mow Mow”). The laughs are fewer, most of those coming from the randy Adelie penguin, Ramon, voiced with a broad Latin accent by Robin Williams.   It plays like a cynical attempt to cash in by throwing a lot of half-baked ideas and far more characters at an elite animation team and expecting them to produce “Toy Story 2.”

They didn’t.

Mumbles (Elijah Wood) and Gloria (now voiced by Alecia “Pink” Moore instead of the late Brittany Murphy) are parents, but their little Erik (Ava Acres) doesn’t seem to be a chip off anybody’s old ice block. He can’t dance, can’t sing. So he scampers off with his pals and falls in with the Adelie penguins in Adelieland. They’re led by “the first penguin to learn to fly.” Swen (Hank Azaria, slinging a broad Norwegian accent) is a self-help guru and a fraud. He can fly, all right. He’s a Puffin passing himself off as a penguin.

“If you want it, you must will it. If you will it, it will be yours,” he preaches. It’s prosperity gospel meets Tony Robbins. Of course penguins can learn to fly.

That “adapt or die” mantra has been taken up by Will the Krill, voiced by Brad Pitt in a funny but almost utterly unrelated story. Will and his longtime companion Bill (Matt Damon) make scores of Krill and Will rhymes and puns — “I’m one in a krillian.” “Good-bye, krill world!”

Will has lost the will to swarm and be whale food, which is what krill do. “I’m moving up the food chain,” he declares. “I’m gonna chew on something with a face!”

Up on the ice, the Emperor Penguins are land-locked by an iceberg, and Mumbles must figure out a way to free them while Erik is expects his puffin false-prophet to save the day.

The opening twenty minutes are a mad, random jumble of characters, situations, voices and song. The only thread that emerges from this confusion (which extends to the sound mix) is that Mumbles is making the same mistakes his dad made in encouraging his son. Humans show up (and look rotoscoped, or animated over live-action images) and may help. Or not. Real children’s voices are used for the many penguin chicks (and elephant seal pups) who appear, which is cute.

The animation and color palette (Antarctica has patches of green, as the ice is melting) are a pretty big leap forward from “Happy Feet’s” images, though the penguin faces are as inexpressive as ever.

Which can also be said of filmmaker George Miller, who went from making “Mad Max” sequels to making children’s films — “Babe” and “Happy Feet” — and their sequels. Entertaining and teaching kids is a noble pursuit, but half-hearted sequels aren’t a happy consequence of that. They’re just an excuse to sell toys and Happy Meals.

MPAA Rating: PG for some rude humor and mild peril

Cast: The voices of Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, Alecia “Pink” Moore, Hank Azaria

Credits: Directed by George Miller, written by Miller, Warren Coleman, Paul Livingston and Gary Eck.  A Warner Brothers release. Running time 1:30

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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