I once argued that Happy Feet was the greatest cinematic achievement of all time. However, I came to the realization that using penguins should be considered cheating; their cuteness can only be rivaled by lol-cats. Nevertheless the original Happy Feet remained a fairly entertaining movie with a positive message. The type of film most people want to see when they go to a family film. Happy Feet 2 builds on that and gives it a shinier polish. It is neither better nor worse than the original, just different enough to be an equal and, despite the trailers, not the huge cliché that you are expecting.
There is still a happy ending. But this is a family film called Happy Feet. Anything else would have been a tremendous folly.
The movie opens with a huge musical number involving all the emperor penguins. Mumble Happy Feet (Elijah Wood), who began the first installment as an outcast, is now the coolest penguin in town. Unfortunately his kid, Erik (Ava Acres), isn’t quite the dancer his dad is. Like Mumble before him, Erik is mocked. Don’t you hate it when sequels start as mirror images of the first one? Thankfully the story changes soon enough, when Erik and his friends run away from Emperorland to the other side of the ice, where the adelie penguins hang out. What they find out in Adelieland is something I would have not expect from a family film.
When the adelies were introduced in the first film, they all seemed to worship Lovelace (Robin Williams), now they have taken their religious fervor to a new level with the arrival of Sven, a puffin bird from the North Pole. Sven has convinced the penguins that with the power of something he calls svending they can all learn to fly. And like any talented neo-evangelist preacher, Sven has been making a fortune out of his flock. If Sven sings they sing, if Sven jumps they jump, it is actually rather scary. It doesn’t take long for young Erik to fall for Sven’s showmanship. Mumble, like any good father, isn’t quite thrilled over the idea that his son has joined a cult.
Where you expecting this from a kids movie? I’ll bet a million bucks you were not. The plot then takes a more familiar route when a giant iceberg ends up blocking the Emperorland off the water. Mumble and his friends must then recruit the religious adelies and some elephant seals to prevent the Emperor penguins from starving to death in their frozen prison.
There is also a subplot involving to krill, Bill (Matt Damon) and Will (Brad Pitt) who are tired of living as part of a swarm. The opening narrations stating, “If you look close enough you’ll realize everything is connected”. Sure enough their story ends up intertwined with the penguin’s in a rather subtle but effective way.
Happy Feet 2 is not a landmark film; it simply treads familiar territory in an unexpected way. Using penguins for their cuteness still counts as cheating, especially if you are using them for environmentalist propaganda. But there is still some skill in using them correctly. And I would argue that Happy Feet 2 is significantly more philosophical than your average environmentalist rant. Especially when it pokes fun at those who just regurgitate the same tired arguments to the point that they are indistinguishable from a born-again-evangelist gathering. The argument might be different but the rhetoric is all the same. It is rare when a children's movie has such a deep argument behind it now-a-days. Or I might just be looking too deep into it.
Oh, and there is also quite a bit of song and dance numbers in this film. I went all this way without mentioning this was a musical but the repertoire of songs include Queen, Puccini’s Tosca, and even the best rendition of Dragostea din tei (AKA Numa Numa) since that fat guy lip-synced it on you tube for the first time. I’d say that like its repertoire Happy Feet 2 is a well rounded film, with a little bit for everyone. It is fair to give credit were credit is due.