HAPPY FEET TWOWatch It At HomeNot So Happy This Time
Most sequels, by and large, exist only because an earlier movie made lots of money–that’s just a fact.  But sequels often at least try to find some justification beyond that, even if it’s only a commitment to do the same thing as before, only bigger.  HAPPY FEET TWO isn’t able to rouse itself to that kind of effort; it feels like a contractual obligation.
This is in spite of the fact that HF2, like the original, was directed by George Miller (who once upon a time was known for his Mad Max movies, a franchise which he keeps saying will return), and that Miller and Warren Coleman remain two of the writers, this time with Gary Eck and Paul Livingston.  Clearly much time and effort was put into the new feature, but in such a dogged way that the audience feels the strain as much as the filmmakers.

The first Happy Feet, you’ll recall, told the story of Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood), who in the film’s penguin universe was the only bird who couldn’t sing.  Instead, he danced, and in the way of oddball fantasy heroes from Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer on down, he was exiled from the community.  This inevitably caused him to have adventures, come in contact with strange beings (humans), and ultimately find true love on his way to using his unique talents to save all those who had once doubted him.
Happy Feet Two is a much more tired exercise in “Hey, we can do this if we all work together!” cliche.  Years have passed, and Mumble is mated to Gloria (the late Brittany Murphy in the original picture, now Pink).  The singing vs. dancing debate has ended, and the irony is that Mumble’s own son Erik (Ava Acres) can’t dance.  So Erik leaves home, eventually finding the other penguin colony from the first movie where 2 of the more colorful characters are voiced by Robin Williams, and where a strangely gifted flying bird (Hank Azaria) is mesmerizing the crowd.  Meanwhile, an avalanche has trapped Erik’s colony in a newly-formed valley with no escape and no food.  Mumble, who had left in search of Erik before the avalanche hit, has to join with a sea lion (Richard Carter) and other Antarctic creatures to help free the penguins.  There are also a couple of philosophical krills, Will and Bill (Brad Pitt and Matt Damon), wanderers from their own colony, who are searching for the meaning of their existence.
All of this comes together in the most routine way.  There are no narrative surprises equivalent to the discovery of humans in the first picture, and Erik’s journey of discovery is far less interesting than Mumble’s had been.  Although the animation is on a huge scale (the movie reportedly cost $135M) and its quality is very fine, the static storyline basically means that half the action consists of watching thousands of penguins marooned in the valley looking up as our heroes stand on the cliff staring down, wondering how to help.  (It’s also unclear just how these few penguins are managing to transport enough fish down to the valley to keep more than a handful of their trapped brethren alive, but let’s not worry about narrative logic.)
Happy Feet Two isn’t badly made, it’s just dull.  The movie is hardly going to end with thousands of penguins dying of starvation, so there’s no particular suspense, and the way the trapped birds are ultimately freed is the most obvious way possible in the movie’s universe (hint:  it involves dancing).  Robin Williams frantically does his schtick, as does Hank Azaria, and beyond that the voices are none too interesting (Pitt and Damon sound like they riffed their lines while floating in one of their pools), while the device of having the animated characters perform (mostly) well-known songs is now old-hat.
There are plenty of family movies opening between now and Christmas week, animated and otherwise.  Feet aside, the odds are you’ll be happier with one of the others.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."