I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film – live action or animated – quite like Happy Feet Two, and I don’t mean that in a good way. If the original Happy Feet were a whirlwind adventure, this manic sequel is a Category 5 hurricane, the intent being to sweep audiences off their feet, but the result being more in line with taking a flying brick to the face. Director George Miller (Mad Max) ensures that everything is in perpetual movement, from the penguins to the camera, which insists on swirling above the action like a drunk pilot looking for somewhere to land. Not even the bevy of pop songs can be played to any kind of satisfying conclusion, abruptly cutting from chorus to chorus, as if the mere utterance of a verse might send us to sleep. Ultimately, for a film about singing and dancing, Happy Feet Two’s rhythm is jarringly off.
For the record, I mildly enjoyed the Oscar-winning original, which despite being similarly hyperactive, still had the good sense to stick to a cohesive story. Unwisely, this sequel tries to tell about seven stories in one, all so heavily abridged by the strict time constraints of a children’s movie, they feel more like a collection of entangled shorts. The overarching plot involves Mumble (voice of Elija Wood; 9), the penguin protagonist from the previous film who has now had a bub of his own, Erik (newcomer Ava Acres). Much like his dad, Erik doesn’t quite fit in amongst the other Emperor Penguins, who spend their days singing and dancing to the likes of Queen and Justin Timberlake, as penguins often do. Erik can’t tap dance like his father and he can’t sing like his mother (voiced by pop star Pink), so he packs his bags and leaves the colony to find his calling elsewhere, quickly becoming enamoured by The Mighty Sven (Hank Azaria; The Smurfs), a rare flying penguin from the North. But while Erik is off finding himself and Mumble finding Erik, their colony is landlocked by a moving glacier – damn you, global warming! – leaving it up to the father and son duo to rescue their brethren before they all starve to death.
But wait, there’s more! There’s also a subplot involving the sensual Ramon (Robin Williams; Old Dogs), a pudgy Adele penguin looking for love; the gruff Bryan (Richard Carter; Happy Feet), an elephant seal looking to get his pups home; preacher Lovelace (also Robin Williams), a Rockhopper penguin hoping to reconnect with his human rescuers; and Will and Bill the krill (Brad Pitt and Matt Damon), two crustaceans who leave their swarm on an existential whim. Their journey, despite being derivative of Scrat the squirrel from Ice Age, is easily the most enjoyable of them all, perhaps because it’s the only time the team of writers balance out the inherent childishness of the premise with some witty adult humour. Forget Happy Feet 3; give us Bill and Will’s Excellent Adventure instead.
Looking at Happy Feet Two from a glass-half-full perspective, it’s impressive that the film is energetic at all — let alone feverishly so — when you consider that penguins aren’t exactly the liveliest creatures of the animal kingdom, nor is Antarctica a continent bursting in colour. Also, taken in moderation, it’s hard to deny the splendour of the animation, from the sweeping shots of a thousand penguins marching across the icy arctic plains, to the way each individual granule of snow glistens beneath their webbed feet.
But nothing about Happy Feet Two can be taken in moderation. It’s a film that only deals in excess, so unless you’re a deliriously happy person with a serious foot fetish, you’d best give Happy Feet Two a miss.