Review: ‘Happy Feet Two’ should have been about krill
There's a long tradition of horror stories set in Antarctica. H. P. Lovecraft set In the Mountains of Madness in the white continent, featuring a race of giant cave-dwelling albino penguins who shrieked “Tekelili!” over and over.
Happy Feet Two continues the tradition of Antarctic penguins repetitively crying out horrific noises. Instead of shout-outs to Edgar Allan Poe, however, these penguins cry out dated pop songs. The horror, the horror.
The hero of the original Happy Feet, mutant freak bird Mumble (played by Elijah Wood), having saved the world from global warming through the power of dance, is raising his chick, Erik (Ava Acres), with penguin wife Gloria (Pink). He is doing an absolutely horrible job of it, and Erik decides to run away, with two fellow chicks in tow. Mumbles takes out after them. Unfortunately, global warming is revived for the sequel, and it sends an iceberg to ram into Emperor Penguin Land and trap everyone but Mumble and the three chicks in a small valley of ice.
Eric has decided he wants to fly after meeting Sven the celebrity flying "penguin" (Hank Azaria) – actually a puffin who is on the wrong side of the planet. There's a plot-specific reason for this; the filmmakers otherwise stick to Antarctic fauna. Lovelace, the fat penguin from the first movie (played by Robin Williams as an ethnic stereotype), works as Sven’s promoter of sorts. Sven uses his celebrity to gather an army of penguins to try to help the trapped Emperors.
There are two completely inconsequential subplots, one involving the other Robin Williams ethnic stereotype penguin trying to win the affection of a lady penguin (boring as well as inconsequential), and one following a pair of Antarctic krill who have left their swarm to seek adventure. These krill are pretty much the highlight of the movie.
One thing that continues to pop up in reviews of animated movies in recent years is how little new movies are relying on toilet humor. Apparently, the makers of Happy Feet Two have decided to rectify this situation. Within minutes, there is a scene involving a penguin urinating on the camera. The scene then cuts away to a reaction shot, then cuts right back to more urine! It is absolutely horrible. Admittedly, there is only one more scene involving toilet humor in the movie, but it involves a character’s head being defecated upon by skuas. It is also incredibly horrible.
It's really just those two tiny moments, but they are pretty unforgivable. There are some decent jokes. At one point, a penguin must frantically play air guitar, which even makes sense in context. In another scene, a baby penguin inexplicably becomes an expert free runner, which makes no sense. Actually, that last one is not a good example. It made me laugh, but not entirely for the right reasons.
The best jokes come from the pair of runaway krill, Bill and Will (Matt Damon and Brad Pitt). Conservative critics of Happy Feet were convinced the whole singing and dancing penguins thing was about being gay. Bill and Will play with these critics; at one point Bill suggests they start a new swarm before Will reminds him they are both male. They also ponder existentialism. Will longs to be free, but Bill asks what, exactly, is free, Will?
The first movie's freaky character designs really got under my skin. It’s like the designers read the Wikipedia article for cute, but had trouble understanding it. Occasionally, it all comes together, and you get adorable penguin babies. Conversely, the female penguins are probably considered abominations against God by most major religions. Don’t even get me started on Mumble, the giant penguin man-child. Why is he the only one that looks like that? He scares me. Lovecraft would have taken one look at him and exclaimed that was exactly what he was describing.
The stand-outs are Bill and Will the krill. The designs are both realistic and appealing, a hard feat to pull off for what are essentially tiny shrimp.
There was some kind of environmental message, which I guess is important, and something about the importance of individuals, which I suppose is also important, but this movie just is not good enough to bear the weight of all its messages.
All in all, needed more krill. If they had just cut out the penguin stuff and made Bill and Will the Krill instead, this would be a positive review.
Note: Again, the screening I watched was in 2D. However, I can guess that my comment on the 3D would have been, “Eeyurgh! Why is that baby penguin PEEING ON MY FACE!”