Happy Feet Two - Elijah Wood
Happy Feet Two - Mumble (Elijah Wood) must find a way to rescue his fellow Emperor Land penguins following a natural disaster © 2011 Warner Bros

This beautifully computer-animated sequel to 2006’s Happy Feet is energetically and often thrillingly directed by the returning George Miller, but never finds its footing storywise. The characters range from the sickeningly saccharine (Ava Acre’s baby penguin Erik) to the obnoxiously hammy (the schticky Lovelace and Ramon, both voiced by Robin Williams), with a couple of amateurishly flat performances between those extremes (Brad Pitt and Matt Damon as a pair of adventurous krill).

Also, some unfortunate lil’ gangsta penguins-in-the-hood gestures that are supposed to be cute are as awkwardly inappropriate as seeing Hello Kitty throwing gang signs after a drive-by. “Mama said knock you out,” indeed.

The movie gets off to a musically martial start with what looks like a million-penguin “Rhythm Nation” production number. The dance-crazy Mumble (Elijah Wood) and his mate Gloria (singer Alecia “Pink” Moore, replacing the late Brittany Murphy) are in the groove, but their so-cute-you’ll-puke son Erik hangs back. Eventually forced to take part, he is so embarrassed by a head-first fall in the snow that he wets himself. More accurately, he lets fly with several long, high, fountain-like streams of urine. That’s entertainment?

Happy Feet Two - Hank Azaria and Ava Acres
A charismatic leader hiding a secret identity, the Mighty Sven (Hank Azaria) has a chat with Mumble's son Erik (Ava Acres) © 2011 Warner Bros

Mortified, Erik leaves Emperor Land with friends Atticus (voiced by seven-year-old rapper “Lil’ P-Nut” Flores Jr) and Boadicea (Meibh Campbell). They discover another colony of penguins called Adelie Land, where residents are under the spell of a big-beaked leader called The Mighty Sven (Hank Azaria) who can fly. Two other Adelie Land residents are Sven’s longtime companion Lovelace and a local named Ramon, who is aggravatingly horny for the uninterested Carmen (Sofia Vergara).

A separate storyline that eventually intersects the penguin plot involves a pair of shrimp-like krill named Will (Brad Pitt) and Bill (Matt Damon). Although the krills’ mostly underwater scenes are gorgeously animated, Pitt and Damon’s performances are so uninspired it’s as if the two recorded their bits during a free lunch hour.

When a disaster strands the Emperor Land penguins, it’s up to their neighbors, Mumble and the three kids to save them. Fortunately, Mumble is able to call in a favor from a massive and intimidatingly powerful elephant seal named Bryan (Richard Carter). Carter may be the least famous member of the cast, but his bone-rattlingly deep voice is the most impressive and expressive in the movie. There’s a lesson here about whether it’s better to have the right actor for a role, as opposed to one with a celebrity name that looks better on a poster.

Director Miller keeps his virtual “camera” in almost constant motion throughout the film, arcing and soaring and circling characters. The 3D effects are unnecessary but very well done, benefitting from a bright-white Antarctica landscape that keeps things from looking too dark.

A major story flaw undercuts the movie’s “we are family” message about inter-species cooperation. Happy Feet Two gives personalities and voices to all onscreen creatures except the unfortunate fish that serve as the penguins’ food. Although we are supposed to empathize with the two krill who desperately want to escape being eaten, fish that get gobbled up receive no such consideration.

That complaint may sound tree-huggingly (or maybe trout-huggingly) vegetarian, but this is a movie with a very obvious ecological theme that should have been more consistent. Concerned activists who want to pitch tents for an Occupy Emperor Land protest are urged to bring along extra blankets.

[Rating: 2.5 stars]

James Dawson

Jim is Film Review Online's Los Angeles based reviewer.