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"HAPPY FEET TWO"
(2011) (voices of Elijah Wood, Robin Williams) (PG)

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QUICK TAKE:
Computer-Animated Dramedy: Facing the effects of climate change, an Emperor Penguin sets out to find his son and his two companions and bring them back to their Antarctica homeland, only to find that and its inhabitants now trapped in a valley of shifting icebergs.
PLOT:
Now that he's all grown up and no longer embarrassed about being unable to sing like the rest of his kind, Emperor Penguin Mumble (voice of ELIJAH WOOD) now has a chick of his own, young Erik (voice of AVA ACRES), with his mate, Gloria (voice of PINK). Due to Mumble's previous behavior, their tribe now sings and dances, but little Erik can't do either and is embarrassed when he tries. Accordingly, he runs off with fellow chicks Atticus (voice of BENJAMIN FLORES JR.) and Bo (voice of MEIBH CAMPBELL) who've decided to follow Adelie penguin Ramon (voice of ROBIN WILLIAMS), who's tired of being rejected by the female penguins, back to his tribe in another part of Antarctica.

There, Ramon tries to impress Carmen (voice of SOFIA VERGARA), but finds himself in the shadow of outsider Sven (voice of HANK AZARIA), a penguin who can actually fly and encourages all others to believe in themselves and follow their dreams. Another creature who's dreaming big is Will (voice of BRAD PITT), a krill who's grown tired of being at the bottom of the food chain and has decided to eat his way up it, much to the chagrin of his pal, Bill (voice of MATT DAMON).

Once Mumble finds his son and the other two chicks and starts them on their journey back home, he tries to dispel the whole "if you dream it you can become it" notion that's now in Erik's head. But he must also contend with an obstacle in their way, a huge elephant seal by the name of Bryan the Beachmaster (voice of RICHARD CARTER), as well as climate change causing parts of their world to melt.

In fact, the latter has gotten so bad that by the time Mumble and his young entourage return home, they find their land now surrounded by giant and unscalable cliffs, much to the concern of Gloria, Atticus' dad, Seymour (voice of COMMON), everyone else, and their leader, Noah the elder (voice of HUGO WEAVING). Realizing everyone will perish if they don't get help, Mumble allows Bo to get Ramon, his friend Lovelace (voice of ROBIN WILLIAMS), Sven and the rest to mount an effort to feed and rescue the trapped penguins.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Whether you view it as manmade or just part of the natural ebb and flow of Earth, there's no denying that climate change has been occurring over the past years. One need only view time lapse photos to see shrinking ice fields on mountains and other cold environs where bare ground hadn't been seen in decades or even centuries but is now present.

If you've purposefully avoided the politically charged debate or somehow managed to miss all of the related stories and news, "Happy Feet Two" will change that as it's about to pummel you over the head with it should you choose to see the film with your family, friends or in solo mode. To be accurate, the film -- the sequel to the dancing, singing and Academy Award winning penguin flick from 2006 -- doesn't point any fingers or take any sides on the issue.

And it really shouldn't. After all, this is a kids movie first and foremost, and its animal subjects in real life certainly don't take sides about the causes of climate change. They just see them, as do we throughout this flick, with puddles of water everywhere, green patches of land showing up where they normally don't, and huge icebergs breaking off from ice fields, all resulting in massive geological changes to the topography.

The latter serves as a pivotal plot point in this tale helmed by returning director George Miller who once directed strictly adult fare such as the "Mad Max" films before turning to talking animal message flicks including the "Babe" and "Happy Feet" series. Working from the script he co-penned with fellow scribes Gary Eck, Warren Coleman and Paul Livingston, the filmmaker starts off the film -- following a huge dance and musical montage number featuring just about every penguin known in existence -- in sort of the same vein as its predecessor.

Namely that's of a young penguin (adorably voiced here by Ava Acres) who, like his dad (voiced by the returning Elijah Wood), feels like he doesn't fit in with the rest of the cast of "Glee" -- uh, "Happy Feet" with all of their song and dance numbers of popular tunes. Accordingly, he hits the "road" with some pals while following a misunderstood and rejected adult penguin (Robin Williams, once again pulling double duty voicing two characters) and ends up mightily impressed with a self-help penguin guru (Hank Azaria who must be close to matching Mel Blanc in voicing animated characters) who can fly.

But the film then takes a serious detour after Mumble finds Erik and his young friends and then sets off for home, only to find that place unrecognizable due to the aforementioned geological shifts that have now trapped their colony in a cliff-surrounded valley. The second half or so essentially then becomes a rescue flick as various characters attempt to get the penguins out of their sunken land, all while dealing with scavenger birds, a testy elephant seal, character misrepresentation and more.

Did I mention their need to break into song and/or dance? Like the first flick, there are enough such numbers to fill a soundtrack (shock of all shocks), and with the subsequent success (since the first flick) of TV's "Glee" proving you can sell a lot covering old songs, I imagine this one will do well with the younger set and any parents or adult chaperones in tow who will recognize the various tunes.

The numbers work for the most part (in terms of sheer entertainment and/or touching upon related plot points or subject matter) and range from the old "Papa Oom Mow Mow" to the more "recent" "Rhythm Nation." "Bridge of Light" (by Pink, who replaces the late Brittany Murphy as Mumble's mate) is Oscar worthy, while a rendition of Queen and David Bowie's "Under Pressure" is actually quite stirring.

A stranger one is young Erik suddenly breaking into full opera mode -- to convince an uncooperative elephant seal (Richard Carter) to help -- with a rendition of an aria from Puccini's "Tosca." That, the inclusion of a running gag about a krill facing an existential crisis and the other varied elements -- that don't always come together into a cohesive whole -- might give the latest "Harold & Kumar" flick a run for the money in terms of becoming a stoner favorite regarding taking in and enjoying the often abstract offering while under the influence.

In fact, those krill asides (featuring Brad Pitt and Matt Damon doing the vocal work) feel like they're from a totally different movie. Actually they feel as if they're from the "Ice Age" flicks or at least greatly inspired by the Scrat the prehistoric squirrel moments that populated those offerings. They're undeniably funny, although in a more cerebral and "punny" way as compared to the outright slapstick style Road Runner and Coyote type material featuring the squirrel and his highly desired acorn.

Overall, while I kept pondering what demented scientist cobbled this thing together, I can't deny I was entertained to one degree or another throughout most of it. The numbers, for the most part, are enjoyable, the vocal work is good, and the computer animation is nothing short of glorious to behold. While it retreads much of the material from the first film, you certainly can't say it isn't ambitious. "Happy Feet Two" rates as a 5 out of 10.




Reviewed November 12, 2011 / Posted November 18, 2011


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