Singing on the ice

Michael Phillips | Boulder Weekly

I admired much of the original Happy Feet (2006), but five years later, I’m still considering suing its makers for emotional distress.


Certainly the most sadistic aspects of its storyline make it a film one doesn’t easily revisit, either for me or my son.

“Here’s my review,” the Young Him, not quite 5, whispered during the “Shock Corridor” climax of the first film, after Mumble the Emperor Penguin had been captured and confined. “Movie, please be over.”

But director George Miller’s digitally animated quasi-musical had a simple and kinetic idea behind it. What if young Mumble found his mating call not through song, but through tap dancing? That question made up for a lot of knotty stomachs, and was answered by many hundreds of millions of dollars worldwide.

The old gang, the swooping panoramic shots of masses of dancing penguins and the constant, grinding perils return in Miller’s sequel, Happy Feet 2.

Story-wise, though, it’s a mess. Nothing seems to happen naturally or without strain this time. Your children will likely be instilled with a sense of ecologically responsible dread for the full 100 minutes. But if it weren’t for the comic relief provided by Will and Bill, tiny shrimp-like crustaceans known as krill and voiced by Brad Pitt and Matt Damon, this would be a forbidding return to Antarctica indeed.

The story rests on the old standbys, childhood humiliation and parental crises of confidence. Mumble (Elijah Wood) and mate Gloria (Alecia Moore, a.k.a. Pink) now have little Erik. After a highly public failed attempt at dancing, Erik realizes he can’t shake it or stomp it like pa. He finds the new role model he seeks in The Mighty Sven, a bird (apparently a penguin, but a close-up of his stapled beak suggests an impostor) able to fly and sporting a Scandi-accent courtesy of Hank Azaria.

Erik’s self-esteem issues would be more than enough for one sequel, but the script has bigger fish to fry. While no one dares utter the phrase “global warming,” let’s just say that something is causing those glaciers to melt.

Species of various types must join forces to save the choreographically gifted Emperor Penguins from their suddenly dire circumstances.

However brutal, the first film’s images of Lovelace the penguin (Robin Williams again) with his neck trapped inside a plastic six-pack ring certainly got some viewers thinking about recycling more mindfully. Director Miller and his writing team were disinclined in Happy Feet 2 to wield the same eco-hammer and pound the same message with the same intensity. But the sequel’s themes of friendship and interdependency fail to generate much momentum. I found myself waiting around for the return of Will and Bill (the krill) and Will’s yearning for a life outside his immediate biomass. Be warned, though: Even in these bits, you must prepare yourself for an ocean of puns on the order of “Goodbye, krill world.”

—MCT, Tribune Media Service Respond: