Who knew that a dancing penguin could have proven so popular with children around the world? Happy Feet was a hit that nobody saw coming and even earned itself a Bafta and an Academy Award for its stunning animation and true-to-life rendering of life in the Antarctic tundras. After the original proved to be such a smash hit – grossing $384 million in total – the sequel, Happy Feet Two, was inevitable. Like the cycle of the seasons and the gradual moving of the tides, Happy Feet Two has arrived to set dancing hearts fluttering anew.
Fans of the original penguin-based dance-fest will be pleased to hear of the retention of all the main characters – Mumble, Claudia, Ramon, Lovelace – along with a new cast of chicks, oddballs, and foreign stereotypes. These characters, mixed with a soundtrack of both modern pop hits and quirky retro classics, mean that this film seeks to expound on the global warming theme first explored in the original, with vague intimations of blame directed toward humans (who are, luckily for us, ultimately seen as benevolent aliens). There was plenty of scope for a full-scale barrage on the mess that humans have made, and continue to make, in this film, but, with a budget of $135 million to raise and humans as the primary audience, they wisely avoid naming humans as the root of their problems. Instead, the issues that crop up in the film are left hanging and seen as problems that are to be overcome, rather than as preventable problems with blame that can be attributed.
But the audience that this film is aimed at are not capable of assigning such blame. They want to see dancing penguins and talking Antarctic animals with various accents, and that is what they are given. The only questionable accents remain those of Robin Williams as Lovelace and Ramon – never quite tipping into full minstrelry but swooping so close to the edge of acceptability that it becomes a distraction. It’s cringe-worthy when Lovelace picks up a human beanie hat and places it on his head and starts a pidgin Jamaican accent, but it’s nothing worse than anything we’ve seen throughout the previous film. While the accents feel forced and uncomfortable in some respects, in others it seems a little more suitable. A new character, Sven, has a Swedish accent that gives his whole character a depth and comedic purpose that seems lacking in Ramon or Lovelace.
The biggest innovation in this film is the addition of two completely new and hither-to unseen main characters, Will and Bill. Played by Matt Damon and Brad Pitt, they are a pair of Krill who become trapped in an existential quandary and escape the swarm to explore the sea by themselves. Their role is tangential to the plot but is enjoyably incorporated into the final scenes of the film and they end up being more important than one would have imagined. For the most part however they are the comic relief, like the Scrat in Ice Age. Exactly like Scrat in Ice Age, in fact, but with added snarky Pitt / Damon dialogue. Their performances are enjoyable but it’s not always clear through the film what their actual purpose is.
Ultimately the film is fun and children will love it. Everything that was good about the original is here in a diluted form and the animation remains truly impressive. It is still one of the freshest and most original CGI animations currently available and definitely worth watching.