REVIEW: Happy Feet Two Is Too Much of an Almost-Good Thing
Australian director George Miller's Happy Feet was one of the surprise pleasures of the 2006 moviegoing year. The story was simple: A young Emperor penguin who has no skill for singing, a necessary skill in wooing a mate, discovers instead that he has a flair for dancing. The picture was fanciful and breezy and, particularly for a big-budget animation feature, showed a wonderful lightness of touch. And it didn't hurt that Savion Glover choreographed the dance moves of the main character, a chubby, awkward-elegant little guy named Mumble, voiced by Elijah Wood.
Miller, it would seem, has the golden touch when it comes to sequels: In addition to directing Mad Max and The Road Warrior, Miller also gave us one of the finest children's movies ever made, Babe: Pig in the City, even more inventive, ambitious and delightful than its predecessor -- wonderful in its own right -- Chris Noonan's Babe.
But while Happy Feet Two fills the basic requirements of a decent sequel, it doesn't stretch beyond them. Wood returns as Mumble, now grown and married to his lady love Gloria. (P!nk provides Gloria's supple, mellifluous speaking and singing voice.) Mumble and Gloria have a son, Erik (Ava Acres), who -- get this -- can't dance. Though, as we learn, he can sing. But long before we get to that revelation, Happy Feet Two meanders all over the Antarctic, plotwise: It seems to begin in what could be the middle and heads off into several directions before settling on one. The central drama involves the fact that Erik and Mumble have been separated from Gloria and the other penguins by a giant glacier, which has stranded the Emperor penguin community, preventing them from finding food.
The story -- written by Miller, Warren Coleman, Gary Eck and Paul Livingston -- takes too long to get cooking and then doesn't quite heat up enough. And though the picture is impressive looking, particularly in 3D, is "impressive" really what we're after in a supposedly gentle story about a little penguin who needs to find his way in the world? The musical sequences -- which include renditions of songs as disparate as Mama Said Knock You Out and the theme from Rawhide -- are elaborate but unmemorable (even though Glover again provides some of the choreography).
But those of you who will be dragged to Happy Feet Two this weekend -- you know who you are -- shouldn't find the experience too painful, thanks to a handful of supporting performances. Robin Williams, who's sometimes too overbearing in real-life live action, makes a great cartoon-character voice. He returns as the possibly politically incorrect Ramon, the randy Latino penguin who toddles away from his pals in search of true love -- or at least lust -- and finds it with hot-cha-cha penguin chick Carmen (Sofía Vergara). Williams also provides the voice for Lovelace, the loopy, sweaterclad love god who comes off as a cross between Barry White and Sun Ra. And Brad Pitt and Matt Damon show up as a pair of quibbling krill who decide they're unhappy with their position at the bottom of the food chain and decide to do something about it.
But my favorite character -- and one who, like Ramon, is probably more than a little politically incorrect -- is the Mighty Sven, a winged maybe-penguin who earns the adoration of penguinkind for his ability to fly. As Sven, Azaria puts on the heaviest Swedish Chef accent possible -- he has a grand time noodling around with choppy cadences and swooping vowels. Happy Feet Two is just too big and overloaded -- too much of an almost-good thing. At least Azaria gives it the soupçon of bad taste it sorely needs.
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