Happy Feet Two is more than just a choreographed musical romp in the snowfield — a whole lot more, actually, with writer/director George Miller and his co-scripters tackling such hot/cold topics as global warming, human-animal interactions, and predator-prey relationships. Most pointedly, the filmmakers want us to understand that, in today’s complicated and fast-changing world, it takes more than just a village to get by. (In this case, for instance, it takes three villages.)
As for the singing and dancing: It’s certainly front and center, with the big production number you’ve seen in the TV trailer unreeling in the movie’s first few minutes. Additional musical theater outbursts happen in direct support of various plot and character situations as the animated narrative moves forward. Yes, penguins are cute, and fluffy baby penguins singing and dancing are almost too cute for comfort.
But the important thing to know about HF2 is that it delivers on the entertainment front, providing non-stop thrills and adventure from start to finish. The story plays out via some of the most sophisticated and seamless 3D animation you’ve ever experienced. The banks of processors required to bring this cast of thousands to life — including a seeming galaxy of multi-appendaged krill — ought to be sufficient to calculate Pi well beyond its present 2.7 trillion digits. (Hard to argue it’s not being put to better use here.)
Elijah Wood returns to his HF1 role as Mumble, with Alecia Moore — aka Pink — as Mumble’s soulful-singing mate Gloria (stepping in for the tragically-departed Brittany Murphy). Starring as Mumble and Gloria’s little penguin kiddo Erik is young vocal talent Ava Acres, who rises to the occasion late in the film with the movie’s most heartfelt singing performance. Her (I mean, Erik’s) desperate plea of an aria seems lifted from the climax of an Andrew Lloyd Webber production, and is all the more striking for having come from out of nowhere. Bravo!
Robin Williams reprises his twin roles as Ramon, the spirited but lovelorn outsider in the Emperor penguins’ camp; and Lovelace, the brightly-hued and bombastic spiritual leader of the Adélie penguin community. New to the vocal mix are Hank Azaria as a curious last-of-the-Mohicans “northern penguin” named Sven who amazes everyone with his startling ability to fly; Sofía Vergara as Ramon’s new love interest, a glamorous Adélie named Carmen; and Richard Carter as Bryan, an Aussie-inflected type A elephant seal.
Stealing the show while delivering the movie’s most quotable quips are Brad Pitt and Matt Damon as Will and Bill, planktonic crustacean pals who strike out on their own, leaving the krill swarm behind to explore new worlds both bravely and — in terms of the unforeseeable dangers they end up facing — inadvisably. But these are the tribulations faced by all explorers, regardless of species.
The central drama of the picture centers on the efforts of Mumble, Erik, and a few other Emperor youngsters to rescue their entire tribe from a seemingly hopeless situation brought about by an iceberg collision. In order to free their loved ones from this precipitous trap, they’ll need to seek help from several unlikely sources. They’ll also have to think outside the box, and call upon inner strengths they never even knew they had.
Some of the film’s most adventurous interludes occur in flashback, as Sven and Lovelace regale the assembled Adélie masses with tales of their strange and wondrous encounters with “aliens” (i.e., humans) in their separate explorations beyond Antarctica. These scenes blend live actors and animated characters with remarkable artistry. The “aliens” make a later appearance on the penguins’ home terrain, but this time — I think — some of them appear to be animated right along with their tuxedoed hosts.
It’s getting harder and harder to tell what’s manufactured by digital animators from what’s real. Kind of disorienting, actually.
I WANNA BE FREE…: “There is no free, Will.” – Bill
HELLO, MOVIE STARDOM: “Farewell, krill world!” – Bill
NEW WORLD ORDER?: “That’s one small step for a krill; one giant leap for spineless invertebrates.”
‘Happy Feet Two’ opens wide across the Metroplex today.