Back in the halcyon days of 2006 when penguins were in vogue Warner Bros. landed a surprise hit with their kooky animated film Happy Feet. It even scored the Best Animated Feature Oscar in a slow year for animation, even Pixar couldn’t manage anything better than Cars but Monster House should have won it. If not for that success this unlikely sequel might never have happened.
Mumble (Elijah Wood) is now a father and his chip-off-the-old-block son Eric has trouble fitting in with the all-singing all-dancing denizens of Emperor Land. When Eric and a pair of pals follow overconfident Latin Adélie Penguin Ramon (Robin Williams) to his tribe’s stomping grounds, Mumble sets out to bring them home but finds his son enamoured by a charismatic flying penguin called Sven (Hank Azaria). Meanwhile two tiny krill (Brad Pitt and Matt Damon) debate their place in the universe.
Happy Feet Two maintains the slightly off-kilter style and song and dance numbers that made the original such an oddity, an appreciable philosophy to do things differently that its reflected by the title spelling its numeric in letters. The choice of songs, most of which hail from the 80s, have clearly been chosen to give adults something to enjoy in the middle of the strangely presented story which doesn’t quite know if it wants to be a cute animal movie or something more artistic and environmentally conscious. Same as the first film then.
The story works a lot better this time but takes an age to go anywhere, the early linear scenes passing at a leisurely pace before the chief plot point finally arrives to give proceedings some much needed tension essentially making it into a rescue mission. The quality of the animation can’t really be disputed, approaching a level of photorealism that is unprecedented, particularly in scenes involving actual humans. The level of detail in crowd scenes, particularly those of the krill swarm is mind-boggling with no detectable aliasing. It’s a technical marvel but it lacks some soul.
The film has been largely panned by critics, easy to see why given the decidedly offbeat style and poorly paced plot but I actually enjoyed it more than the Oscar-winning original. The voice cast do a largely decent job and it’s a treat to hear Matt Damon singing like he’s in the shower but it’s still mostly forgetable stuff.
Inoffensive and fun but hardly an animation classic. If you can put up with a cast of bizarre and oddly-accented Antarctic creatures and like your remixed dance music, or better still, have kids, give it a look.