Happy Feet 2: George Miller’s Disappointing Sequel to his Oscar Winning Animation, Voiced by Brad Pitt, Matt Damon

Director George Miller’s second life as a family-friendly filmmaker continues with Happy Feet 2, a disappointing sequel which arrives five years after the original film won the Oscar Award for Best Animated Feature.

The new edition adds voices by Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Hank Azaria, Pink, and other notables to the large pool, with Elijah Wood and Robin Williams returning (and Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman moving on).

Tap-dancing penguin Mumble (Wood) is back, though now he is an upstanding and somehow bland community leader. It is his son, Erik (Ava Acres), who is, following in his father’s footsteps, having a lot of trouble fitting in.

Mumble, despite his own painful experiences of being an outsider, fails an attempt to encourage Erik to discover his unique talents. “So much for my daddy skills,” Mumble bemoans.

Unlike his father, Erik has no sense of rhythm, which, together with dad’s weak pep talk, makes him miserable enough to run away from home. This setup is all a bit rushed, the great divide between father and son coming off as unsubstantiated. It might have made more sense if Erik was clearly a teenager, but he appears to be a very young boy.

Erik soon takes a visiting Swedish puffin, who is passing himself off as a flying penguin, as his new father figure. Sven (Hank Azaria) is treated like a rock star by the penguin nation and gives Erik false hopes that he, too, can someday fly—if only the youngster will give himself over to a brand of unrealistic positive thinking dubbed by its creator and chief promoter as “Sventhink.”

Climate change enters the picture to throw everyone into a tizzy, and it is suddenly all hands on deck: penguins, seals, a whole lot of krill, and even a few live-action humans must play their part in working to save the ecosystem (at least temporarily). “Happy Feet 2 ” slows down and at times comes close to exhausting itself as an out-of-control iceberg, which they dub the Berg of Doom, traps the penguins.

Will Erik and his father have to overcome their differences and join forces to play a heroic role for their people? Will Erik realize he has the greatest dad in the world, who’s always been giving him the best advice and had his best interests in mind? As cute and technically accomplished as this movie is, Miller’s plot banks on high-grade predictability. There are no surprises, and the message moments feel labored and fail to offer any genuine inspiration.

Miller’s proposed solution to global warming is meanwhile quite odd: the natural world needs to wake up and go against its own nature. Animals should apparently stop eating one another, all become vegetarians, and band together to take back their rightful world. The film upholds an idealized and incorrect view of nature while pretending to be eco-friendly.

Will the Krill (Pitt) and Bill the Krill (Damon) turn out to be much goofier and more compelling than any of the penguins in a major subplot, which practically serves as its own buddy movie within the movie. The krill duo, possibly a romantic partnership, is on an idiotic crusade to avoid their bottom-of-the-food-chain fate by turning themselves into macho omnivores.

Pitt and Damon seem to know they are stealing the show—or at least having more fun than everybody else—and thankfully cannot help themselves. But, like other subplots, this one, despite a clever premise, eventually loses all of its steam.

As with the original film, “Happy Feet 2” doubles as a musical. Most of the production numbers, including Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure,” are elaborate and energetic.  However, a Pink anthem, which aims at garnering an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song, brings the movie to a painful temporary halt.

The “Happy Feet” animators certainly give the Pixar folks a run for their money, achieving incredible detail, especially in close-ups of the insanely cute penguins and other animals. The animators have a fine time with those tiny krill legs, finding many interesting things for them to do. Some of the action sequences—especially a krill encounter with a whale—are stunning examples of what animation can accomplish today.

But, unfortunately, “Happy Feet 2” does not have the narrative energy and tonal nuance to match its impressive visuals.

Cast

Mumble – Elijah Wood

Ramon/Lovelace – Robin Williams

The Mighty Sven – Hank Azaria

Gloria – Pink

Will the Krill – Brad Pitt

Bill the Krill – Matt Damon

 

Credits

A Warmer Bros. Pictures release.

Directed by George Miller.

Written by George Miller, Gary Eck, Warren Coleman, and Paul Livingston.

Produced by George Miller, Doug Mitchell, and Bill Miller.

Cinematography, David Peers and David Dulac.

Editing, Christian Gazal.

Original Music, John Powell.

 

Running time: 99 minutes.