There’s lots of peril but not much story in this sequel to 2006’s animated-penguin blockbuster. Although appealing to look at, Happy Feet Two is noisy, busy, and unable to spark much emotional involvement in the viewer other than fear for the characters’ well-being and a touch of existential angst by way of a couple of krill – the newly introduced characters voiced by Brad Pitt and Matt Damon. There’s also a hint of a message about global warming in that the penguins’ plight may be due to climate change, but that conclusion is merely implied rather than spelled out.
The sequel opens with a big song-and-dance number in which young Erik (Ava Acres) is unable to dance but is encouraged to do so by his mom Gloria (singer Pink taking over for the late Brittany Murphy) and dad Mumble (Elijah Wood), who were the central characters in the original. Erik wants to find his own thing that he’s good at instead of joining the conformist chorus line, so he soon takes off with some friends for lands beyond. Robin Williams is back voicing dual roles as the eccentric birds Ramon and Lovelace. Mumble takes off on a mission to rescue Erik, but upon their return (after a battle of wills with an ornery elephant seal) they face a more desperate rescue mission. The emperor penguins’ habitat has shifted, leaving the flock trapped in an icy chasm that allows no escape. Concurrently, we are made privy to the plight of Will (Pitt) and Bill (Damon), a couple of krill who decide they’re tired of being at the bottom of the food chain and set off on their own adventure away from the swarm. No longer will they be “one in a krillion.”
Though thematically related, the penguin and krill stories never really intersect and wind up making the film feel rather choppy. Unfortunately, most of the film’s wit and humor is found in the existential crisis of the krill, while the penguin material coasts on the animals’ cute, cuddly appearances. Nevertheless, the film’s near-constant peril may intimidate the young ones in the audience, who may also be at a stage where they prefer the comforts of conformity to the trials of individuation. To these viewers, “happy feet” only means wearing shoes that light up with every step.