Happy Feet 2

The first Happy Feet film was a runaway success, beating out Casino Royale at the box office and garnering the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. And yet – as we recently reported – its sequel has done so badly that it looks like one of the studios behind its development is facing closure. So where did things go so wrong?

Happy Feet Two centres on the relationship between the tap-dancing Mumble (Wood) and his son, Erik (Ava Acres). At the film’s opening, Erik is watching everyone do a massive song and dance routine and is (very reasonably) confused. Mumble tells him to try out dancing but Erik messes up and is super embarrassed. Mumble worries he’s being a bad penguin dad. Then Erik runs away with his penguin friends and Mumble pursues him. Only while they’re gone a huge iceberg turns up, blocking the penguin colony in!

When Mumble and the penguin babies return, they have to work out a way to free all their penguin friends before they penguin die. Then there’s a storyline following two krill named Will and Bill (Brad Pitt and Matt Damon, obviously). Will wants to break away from the other krill to work his way up the food chain and start eating seals or something? I’m not really sure of the significance of this story. It has very little connection to anything else. But then, this is a film about tap-dancing penguins so, you know, ANYTHING GOES.

We all know a good kids’ film strikes the balance between entertaining the children and giving their parents something to titter over. Obviously, there should also be those Toy Story 3 “incinerator” moments where you have to suddenly pretend there’s something in your eye. Happy Feet Two, sadly, is not only distinctly short on laughs and clever lines (even Robin Williams’ Spanish-accented Ramon can’t muster many), its relentlessly optimistic tone also ensures that any moments of tension are quickly resolved. At one point, for instance, a flock of predatory skuas comes to prey upon the imprisoned penguins but quickly gets scared off. And don’t worry! All the chicks escape unscathed. PHEW.

Perhaps the only moment that achieves some kind of emotional resonance is when Erik’s mother Gloria (Pink) sings to her son whilst separated from him by the nasty old iceberg. It’s genuinely touching, and reminiscent of the heartbreaking scene in Dumbo when the titular pachyderm visits his imprisoned mother. Only in Happy Feet, the moment ends with us being taken into space to look at some nebulae. Why? Why does that happen? And while we’re on the subject of WHY – why on earth do they have baby penguin Erik sing an aria from Tosca, only with the words changed to make it about how penguin proud he is of his penguin dad? (SPOILERS! Sorry! If you care, that is, which you probably don’t). It’s so PENGUIN WEIRD.

Really, the best moments in this film belong to Will and Bill. Their story is a little heavy on the krill puns, and it does borrow heavily from the Marlin/Dory dynamic in Finding Nemo, but nonetheless Pitt and Damon both put in funny, lively performances. And though the 3D aspect adds nothing whatsoever, the animation is very nice (particularly the underwater scenes). At the end of the day, there are probably worse kids’ films around, but there’s honestly not much point in taking the nippers to see this. You’d probably be better off plonking them in front of a DVD of the first Happy Feet, or you could go the whole hog and let them watch Frozen Planet. Because you’re never too young to see a penguin chick swallowed whole by an orca.

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