In 2006, Warner Bros. stormed into the animated picture scene with Happy Feet, the winner for Best Animated Picture at the Academy Awards under the direction of George Miller. Mumbles (Elijah Wood) and Gloria (Pink) are two penguins who mate and produce Erik (Ava Acres/Elizabeth Daily) at the end of the original; Erik becomes the focal point of the action in the sequel, again directed by Miller. With animated song-and-dance numbers, the movie follows Erik’s journey toward identity and individuality as the various penguin colonies struggle with the dangers that threaten their world, including predators and the ever-shifting ice.
The voice of Robin Williams provides many of the comic moments as the penguins Ramon and Lovelace, but it also highlights one of the problems here: you can’t easily understand all of the dialogue! While the cast is full of excellent actors in addition to Wood, Pink, and Williams, like Hank Azaria (The Mighty Sven), Sofia Vergara, Hugo Weaving, Common, Anthony LaPaglia, and the Brad Pitt/Matt Damon combo (as the two Krill), it’s often too distorted to fully capture. But that doesn’t stop it from being witty, passionate, or beautiful to watch.
The animation is absolutely ridiculous. From a drop of water in the opening scene, to the various ways that the penguins move as they represent their species or individuality, the motion-capture phenomenon is in full effect here. There’s a certain humanity to the way that the penguins are represented, but the action amidst the snow and ice almost sucks us into believing that we’re watching a documentary. And then they sing, which will either be a draw… or a turnoff, depending on your personal taste.
From a moral perspective, there’s a significant emphasis again on finding your voice… or your footing. Erik is the kid who is laughed at, ostracized, etc., but unlike a Disney movie, here he’s not an orphan… and his parents try hard (with varying success) to build his character and self-esteem. His father can relate, having been “that kid” in the past, but it’s his strong mother who provides the stability he needs. He’s also able to see the example of Ramon, for better or worse; but in the end, who he becomes as a leader of the other penguins is something he finds internally, showing that bravery isn’t necessarily just for the old.
Some of the interesting dynamics are provided by Sven, who adults will recognize isn’t what he says he is (a point that becomes clearer later). There are some mystical elements attributed to Sven which turn out to be unfounded, and that seems to add to the humanist approach, that everything good comes from ourselves and is generated there with no example from any higher power. That sort of “television evangelist” bit was frustrating, but it’s clear from experience that there are often “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” In the end, Erik and his family prove to be enough because of their deep love for each other, and it is the love of family which rises to save the day.
Happy Feet Two might not be as good as the original, but it’s still more fun than Rango (this year’s Oscar winner) and different enough, thanks to its musical leanings, to delight audiences seeking some cartoon animal entertainment about working together, finding yourself, and embracing the music that’s in your heart. Blu-ray bonuses include instructions on how to draw Erik yourself, an opportunity to “singalong” with the penguins, and some behind-the-scenes moments with Lil’ P-Nut and Pink. Happy Feet Two is available now on Blu-ray Combo pack, DVD and via download.