MOVIE REVIEW: Happy Feet Two
Starring Robin Williams, Elijah Wood and Sofia Vergara
George Miller, the renowned Australian filmmaker known for launching Mel Gibson’s acting career with the volatile and exciting Mad Max Trilogy, is a director obsessed with the way families evolve within extreme natural landscapes. The danger and mystery of these locations shapes the foreground drama, putting an emphasis on the way human interaction and nature organically overlap.
This motif comes to an apex in Miller’s brilliant 2006 animated film Happy Feet, a nuanced, elegant, and classic tale of an Emperor Penguin named Mumble who tap dances his way to salvation. Some five years after Happy Feet’s release, the film still inspires impassioned defenses by its legion of supporters and just as much spite from its detractors, critics who blindly focus on the film’s patented postmodern mash-ups of pop songs as some kind of cultural Armageddon instead of its blinding and rare sincerity.
These same issues have been raised during the release of Happy Feet Two, and the critical response has been almost universally negative, sometimes fundamentally so. While I completely understand why some critics mistake the film’s shaggy dog qualities for faults, they are ignoring the fact that this sequel demands to be considered separately from it’s predecessor. The first hour of Happy Feet Two, which establishes the now grown Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood), his wife Gloria (Pink), and their young son Eric as an integral part of the revamped penguin community, is a messy collection of seemingly unconnected scenes and dance numbers. Nothing really adds up in these moments, and they all seam to drift on by like one of the gigantic ice flows in the film. But there's a method to Miller's seemingly mad directorial approach.
Happy Feet melded genres (Action, Romance, Comedy, Adventure) seamlessly without ever effecting it’s humble and sincere core, yet Happy Feet 2 is consistently disjointed, jumping from Mumble’s conflict of purpose with his son to a side-story involving two rambling Krill (voiced by Brad Pitt and Matt Damon). Through these two seemingly divergent stories, Miller completely devotes his film to the interpersonal connections between family, friends, and community members, something that comes to a head in the film’s stunning final dance number to Queen’s “Under Pressure.” All of the small moments that at first felt disconnected finally come together during this truly great sequence.
So Happy Feet Two is one of those rare films that gets stronger as it progresses, gaining traction on the individual character moments that at first seem random but quickly add up to something more. During the climax, which finds Mumble, Eric, and a band of powerful elephant seals using the vibrations of dance to help save the hoards of penguins trapped in a sinking void, Miller once again establishes a striking sense of harmony, both in nature and community. Miller may let his characters simply hang out together for extended amounts of time (there’s an unforgivable extended dance sequence involving a poseur Puffin named Sven), but there's always a purpose behind his manic editing structure. Also, the pristine cinematography is always ready to wow the viewer, suggesting through a wonderful clarity that every ice-crystal and and drop of water is a universe all its own. Despite its many flaws, Happy Feet Two is never less than intoxicating.