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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 18, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 46
Latest Happy Feet sings a captivating song
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Latest Happy Feet sings a captivating song

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

Happy Feet Two
Opening November 18


Tap-dancing penguin Mumble (Elijah Wood) isn't sure what to do. He and chanteuse wife Gloria (Alicia 'Pink' Moore) have an adorable young son, Erik (Ava Acres), who is having trouble finding his own beat to dance to or the perfect song to sing, and the loving duo isn't entirely sure of the best way to help the kid out. But after he takes off in the footsteps of Ramon (Robin Williams) and heads across the icy tundra with a couple of his best friends in tow, Mumble knows he needs to find a way to become the kind of parent worthy of being looked up to as a role model.

It's a pretty simple setup, and considering how big the stakes were in the 2006 Academy Award winner Happy Feet, it's a little surprising just how slight much of the sequel, Happy Feet Two, can feel. But that's a bit of a mirage, really, because as things progress it soon becomes clear that returning co-writer and director George Miller (Mad Max, Babe: Pig in the City) and his crackerjack team of animators and craftsmen have quite a bit more on their collective minds than you might at first think. This return to the Antarctic is filled with dangers, emotional pitfalls, and matters of the heart that are as profound as they are wonderful. This second penguin-filled adventure is, shockingly, nearly as inspiring and as sensational as that first one was five years ago.

Granted, it helps that the central thrust is extremely straightforward and clear. Mumble and Erik's clan are trapped by an unexpected calamity, their entire community on the brink of death unless father and son can find some way to free them from their frostbitten tomb. They get help from Lovelace (Williams) and his group, a secretive flying 'penguin' named Sven (Hank Azaria) lend a helping flipper, and some rather grumpy (yet oh-so-cute) emperor seals also come to assist in this grave time of need. But in the end, it falls to Mumble and to Erik to find the ultimate solution, freeing Gloria and the others while the father also helps his son discover his voice and some dance steps to call his own.

Happy Feet Two is a stirring story of self-discovery, friendship, and family that wormed its way into my heart with startling effectiveness. Not only do Mumble and Erik need to find a way to communicate, Sven needs to learn to express himself honestly and from his heart, subduing his extrovert flamboyance to reveal the inner truth about himself to those he desperately wants to be friends with. Add into the mix a pair of adventurous krill named Will (Brad Pitt) and Bill (Matt Damon) and you've got creatures finding themselves and their true natures all over the place, and this frozen wonderland becomes a melting pot of discovery bordering on the human.

Some of it can get a bit silly, and unlike the first film, this sequel takes quite a bit of time to find its stride (the opening portions are needlessly padded as well as a bit pointless). But I liked how subtle Miller and company's handling of their global warming and climate change message was this time, how they don't hit the viewer over the head with their proselytizing. I also quite adored many of the new characters - especially Will and Bill (Pitt and Damon are marvelous) - and the animation constantly dazzles.

But it is a single moment, right smack-dab in the middle of the picture, that won me over to this sequel's side. Mumble and Erik are arguing, much of their debate echoing to the terrified trapped penguins below. Fear is gripping everyone, the chances of escape are slim, and the likelihood of a tragic end is growing. Gloria comes to the forefront and lets her voice be heard, singing to her petrified and frazzled son in a voice dripping with motherly concern and love. It's a stunning sequence of events, one that brought a quiet tear to my eye and stunned the preview viewing audience into silence. It's the kind of moment filmmakers dream of achieving but so seldom realize, elevating Happy Feet Two to a plateau that's as universal as it is timeless.

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