Friday 23 December 2011

Happy Feet Two Review - An Amiable, Toe-Tapping, Song-Singing Sequel

The sequel to the 2006 Academy Award winning musical-penguin film, Happy Feet Two, still directed by George Miller, is an ambitious sequel. It takes the charming, touching, coming-of-age original and populates the world with more characters, more songs, dances and adventures. Yet, Happy Feet Two does it all less effectively than its predecessor; it is still charming and has a decent story, but mainly because at least half of the film feels copy and pasted from the first. This is a case of having to remind the film makers that less is more; adventure and enthralling peril cannot, and should not, be a substitute for story.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed Happy Feet Two, but I was underwhelmed; it's not on the same level as the first film. Furthermore, the film's just rather hectic, there's a lot going on, not all of it coherent or needed. There's still a lot of fun and charm about, although it will come across as very familiar to fans of the original; dancing and singing penguins will always be able to warm your heart, although they may wear on you somewhat after the rather long second half. Happy Feet Two is the sequel that nobody really needed to see, Happy Feet 1 had a good, warm ending, and a large portion of that original is repeated here; it's somewhat of a case of "hey, the first one made a fair bit of money, let's make another". Whilst it is a fun film, it is filled with gaping flaws and story issues that didn't plague the original.

In Happy Feet Two, we have a much grander story than the first film, as Mumble (Elijah Wood) and Gloria's (now voiced by Pink) son, Erik, faces his own conflicts (somewhat annoyingly similar to Mumble's in the first film), as he is perceived as "different" and "weird". With friends in tow, Erik runs away with Ramon to Adélie-Land, where they meet up with a few familiar faces, the Amigos and Lovelace, and a few new ones, including the widely entertaining and reasonably complex, Sven - touting himself as a flying penguin - when he is actually a puffin. From here, our heroes and a new group of characters, must fight to save an endangered Emperor-Land; with the help of just about every animal and personality in the world.

The story, whilst much noisier and busier than the first film, is a lot weaker. There's too much going on for its own good; but that's not to say you won't enjoy it. I loved the first half of the film, which basically encapsulated Mumble tracking down Erik et al and returning to Emperor-Land; it was funny, reasonably touching and engaging. As aforementioned, much of the charm and plot was copied from the first film, with the story still essentially being a father and son one, but, the first film was great, so any slight variance on it is still very enjoyable. It also has very semi-apocalyptic tones to it; it's like a hybrid of Happy Feet 1 and Ice Age 2. Populated by a series of great, likeable characters, there is a lot of fun to be had here. However, things take a turn for the worst in the second half of the film.

It's long, it drags, it's repetitive and there's really not a lot of point to it; it's padding for the sake of padding. Sure, it's climactic and intense, there's a lot of action and whatnot, they try and make a good moral point about human's playing God with the lives of animals, but never doing quite enough, but, ultimately, it just falls flat. Basically, there's about half an hour of "oh no, a peril", "oh look, a solution", "oh no, another peril", it gets old fast and I was somewhat bored. It's about twenty minutes too long. Then, after all that bait-and-switching, the film just kind of ends, after all the build and dragging out, it's somewhat of an anti-climax.

Despite some rather glaring story problems, there was a decent amount of upside to the film, mainly, the characters were brilliant. Obviously, we see the return of our beloved penguin cohorts from the first instalment, sans parents and whatnot, but we also get a large cast of new characters - which are mainly great. Firstly, we have Sven (voiced by The Simpsons' Hank Azaria), the aforementioned penguin-posing-puffin, who acts as a kind of self help guru, promoting "Sven Thinking" and self belief, which is ultimately the crux of the film (and indeed the first one). Sven is just a very amusing, charming and complex character, it's a lot of fun to watch him on screen. We also have the trio of younger characters: Mumble's son, Erik, who's rather cute, if a bit annoying; the daughter of the loud teacher, Miss Viola, Boadica; and Seymour's son, Atticus, who is rather brilliant, he's very funny for a start. In terms of new characters, in a similar vein to the role of Scrat in Blue Sky Stuido's Ice Age films, we have Will (Brad Pitt) and Bill (Matt Damon) the Krills, who break away from the swarm, in search of individuality; they are absolutely hilarious and a nice comic relief in some of the more tense moments of the film. It's also rather good and fulfilling to see all of the little threads of the story come together.

In terms of character problems though; whilst I loved Bryan the Elephant Seal - he was funny, deep, complex and a very likeable character - he was a shameless and blatant rip off of Bruce out of Finding Nemo, even down to the voice. It was utterly ridiculous in its brashness, surely they realised people would notice? Nonetheless, he's a pleasure to watch and is very fun.

Now, I'd be remiss if I didn't go on to mention the two greatest aspects of this film; in a largely so-so film, the two exceptional areas were, as you'd expect, the music and the animation. As I've said, less is more, but I was rather happy to have a wider array of music in Happy Feet Two. The score was pretty good, but the actual music was the true show stealer; I particularly enjoyed the version of Under Pressure. However, my favourite song from the film was an original one, Bridge of Light, performed by Pink, it was brilliant; touching and powerful, the scene that it was in was made so much better and more poignant because of the fantastic song. Special kudos should go to the film for this song alone.

The animation was, like in the original, stunning. It's just so gorgeous, every nuance is intricate and detailed; during the Aurora Australis, the lights and the swirls are exquisite, the animation is on par with any I've seen this year, probably just trailing Rango and Tintin. Also, given the restraints of animating penguins - in that they have few movements and facial gestures - there's a lot of emotion on display; the animators deserve praising.

So, all in all, Happy Feet Two is an enjoyable sequel that, whilst not close to replicating the charm or excellence of the original, is packed with a lot of fun, enjoyable characters and some catchy tunes, as well as being a visual treat. It's perfectly passable family entertainment, that is probably worth a visit this season - but don't go in expecting anything great.



I also feel I'd best mention the short film that preceded Happy Feet Two, the CGI Looney Tunes short film, I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat. The short has been in the awards limelight as of late, and rightly so, it's brilliant, funny, nostalgic, clever and all round Looney Tunes goodness. It also hearkens back to a great time in animation and is a fitting tribute to the late, great voice of Looney Tunes, Mel Blanc (the short uses his archived voice). It's practically worth the price of admission alone and whilst the CGI animation may, at first, seem weird in the very vintage Looney Tunes world, it will soon grow on you, it's brilliant! I'd probably give Puddy Tat a 9 or 10/10, and keep your eyes out for a separate post about that and Looney Tunes later.

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