With George Miller’s Happy Feet Two, we have a prime example of diminishing returns. Not that the original Happy Feet (2006) should be considered some paragon of animated film, but even so we have a sequel that’s listless—and probably pointless. Everything the original film had going for it—musical numbers that served a purpose within the plot, a good dose of subtext—are watered down or nonexistent this time around.
But the biggest problem with Happy Feet Two is how messy it is. There’s a plot of sorts, but the film really doesn’t get around to explaining itself till the midpoint. Before—and even after that—the film’s a jumble of ideas and characters, and it soon becomes evident that the script’s sole purpose is to set-up the film’s climax. We have our original penguin protagonist, Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood), who’s now raising a family with Gloria (voiced by pop singer Pink, taking over for the late Brittany Murphy) and his awkward son Erik (voiced by TV actress Ava Acres). The point is part “believe in yourself” family-film tract, part sermon on how even the smallest things matter, mixed with a vague ecological message that’s too thin to glue it all together. There’s also a dab of pointing out the perils of dishonesty, but this—like the rest of the film’s disparate messages—is shoved into the picture. It’s just constipated with ideas.
Add onto this the MacGuffin of a runaway iceberg that’s trapped Mumble’s friends and threatens to starve them, and the movie just can’t get to the damn point. Instead, the majority of the film is concerned with a parade of characters, both new and old. We get Robin Williams as the annoying Ramon, and then we’re burdened with Lovelace, another annoying Robin Williams penguin creation in a sweater. We have a savior-like flying “penguin” (Hank Azaria), a macho sea lion named Bryan (Richard Carter, Happy Feet) and a couple of krill, one of which (voiced by Brad Pitt) is going through some sort of existential crisis.
The film is a mish-mash of action pieces, occasional musical numbers that don’t serve the plot, and characters being trotted out and occasionally forgotten—and none if it is cohesive. When it comes down to it, the movie is dramatically inert because of all of this wandering around. There seems to be more thought going into figuring out how to shove some Queen songs into the movie than there is how to make an engaging, exciting story. Even the film’s technically gorgeous animation is has exchanged cartoonish style and heart in favor of photorealism. When the only thing you take away from a film is the burning desire to never hear Brad Pitt or Matt Damon sing again, it’s safe to say that the film is seriously crippled. Rated PG for some rude humor and mild peril.