Maybe I’m just still a child at heart who wants to learn the hard lessons of life through song and dance and seemingly impossible situations. Or maybe I have a preference for anything that indirectly reflects on larger structural and societal issues like environmentalism and ethical animal treatment. Perhaps I just love penguins — especially cute, fluffy ones that make me want to drown in a pool of a thousand puppies and rainbows.
Whatever it is that gravitates me towards the genres of a movie like Happy Feet Two (children, family, animated) is my own prerogative. Make fun of me all you like; I adored Happy Feet Two.
The plot centers primarily on a child penguin named Erik (voiced by Ava Acres), the offspring of Mumble (Elijah Wood) and Gloria (Alecia Moore a.k.a., P!nk) from the first Happy Feet, who is hesitant to sing or dance and, thus, feels outcast by other singing and dancing penguins. Erik ventures off into the perpetually freezing and dangerous Antarctic with two other young penguins and an egg-making driven Ramon (Robin Williams). It’s there that he meets the sex symbol of all penguins, Lovelace (also voiced by Williams), his first hero who is a well-intended yet fearful puffin mistaken as a legendary flying penguin known as the Mighty Sven (Hank Azaria) and Bryan the Beach Master, an intimidating elephant seal, among other various characters. Emperor-Land, the place where Erik was raised among other Emperor penguins, is bombarded by an enormous chunk of ice that blocks any way in or out, thus putting the pengunins in grave danger of starvation and attack from skua birds. Erik, Mumble, and their friends must save the Emperor penguins — with or without the help of the “aliens” i.e., humans, or otherwise they will die.
This story also shifts back and forth with one about two krill named Will (Brad Pitt) and Bill (Matt Damon) who separate from their swarm and realize that they are at the bottom of the food chain. Will, the adventurous and fearless one, is determined to evolve and move up the food chain (at one point attempting to eat a sea lion), while Bill is reluctant to attempt such a drastic change, yet loyally follows Will. At some point, they part for what seems like for good, and — well — you will just have to watch the movie to find out what becomes of them. (And a note to all my LGBTQ allies and advocates: watch for the homoerotic nature of their relationship; it’s adorable!)
As a fan of the first of the Happy Feet movies, I enjoyed the sequel. I would recommend anyone to give either movie a go. While it is an added bonus that Happy Feet Two is age-appropriate for youth (perhaps something to watch while babysitting your kid siblings), I would argue that it is entertaining and educational for adult audiences, too — especially those who enjoy musicals, references to popular culture, and want to feel idealistically hopeful in a world that often troubles, challenges and hurts us. I would criticize that Happy Feet Twodoes foster a sense of unbelievably high expectations in the idea that everybody — regardless of species, size or ability — can contribute to a community that makes a positive difference, but this is a movie intended for children after all, and unless our culture(s) decide hope is not something we want to promote among the youth, this movie was not necessarily pushing extreme bounds.
Happy Feet Two was packed with fantastic remakes of popular songs of various genres, including pop, hip-hop, rhythm and blues and even opera. (A part of the delight in watching Happy Feet or Happy Feet Two is recognizing the music and having the embarrassing urge to sing (or rap) along — that is, if you enjoy that sort of thing.) Also, as a fan of the voice of rapper Common, I cannot help but swoon every time Seymour the penguin comes on. (No, I am not sexually attracted to an animated penguin — just his voice.)
And for all you adrenaline junkies and action movie fans out there: I must say that I was pretty impressed by the amount of thrill Happy Feet Two contained versus Happy Feet. Furthermore, I offer mad props to the animators who somehow created imagery that followed a complex storyline with events on land, underwater and in the air while manipulating the perspective from something as small as a krill in the snow to a satellite view landscaping the planet Earth.
My only major negative criticism about Happy Feet Two is its approach to balance multiple characters’ perspectives and, therefore, multiple plots. This made the movie experience somewhat confusing or seem disconnected, but the effort was there, and the outcome was not a complete mess. The end really puts all the pieces together so that the stories of Erik, Mumble and the krill connect in a very fun and theatrically entertaining way. So, I recommend prospective viewers to be patient. Perhaps it was the intention of the writers and/or directors to challenge the viewers with this and, therefore, distinguish it from the first movie which basically followed only one character and exemplify how even a movie for kids can be complex and thoughtful. I also deeply missed the talent of the late Brittany Murphy, who was the original voiceover for the character of Gloria, but that was clearly out of the control of the movie’s staff.
While I am hesitant to say the sequel was better than the first, this movie made me “lol”, tear up and think. Prepare yourself with an open mind and an open heart, and Happy Feet Two will be just as fun to watch as the setting of the story is cold.