The Marketability of Feathers

'Happy Feet Two' is occasionally stunning, and it has some intriguing moments, but by and large it’s constantly on the verge of incoherence.

A strange detail one might notice about Happy Feet Two is that the main character Mumble appears to have kept his baby fluffy down, and looks nothing like an adult emperor penguin despite already being a father. That speaks to what kind of movie this is. Even though it doesn’t make any sense for Mumble to still have his down, it’s kept on because penguins are just cuter that way. The film is occasionally stunning, and it has some intriguing moments, but by and large it’s constantly on the verge of incoherence.

Tap dancing emperor penguin Mumble (Elijah Wood) is having trouble raising his son Erik (Ava Acres), who isn’t very good at dancing. Erik runs off after a particularly humiliating experience, and Mumble goes off to look for him. Erik encounters Sven (Hank Azaria), a penguin who can fly, and suddenly Mumble has to compete for the attention of his son. While they’re away, a glacier moves in on the emperor penguin habitat, boxing the penguins and leaving them with no access to food. When Mumble and Erik return, they gather up all of the other residents of Antarctica to try to help the emperor penguins. Meanwhile, krill Will and Bill (Brad Pitt and Matt Damon) are discovering the world beyond the swarm, and finding out their place in the food chain.

There’s also a subplot concerning adele penguin Ramon trying to woo another penguin. And then there’s the bit that concerns elephant seals. And then there’s the history of Sven the flying penguin. The narrative is all over the place, the film unable to tell a cohesive story. Each of these threads has nice little moments, but they just don’t fit together. Much like the musical medley that starts off this picture, there doesn’t appear to be much connective tissue between all the elements. The penguins will go from Momma Said to Knock You Out to SexyBack just because they can.

The film’s biggest strength lies in its visuals. The setting provides plenty of amazing things to depict, and the movie is more than capable of doing justice to all that majesty. The detail is remarkable, the film going as far as to render the reflections of the krill as they walk across the ice, and the waves of light that pass through the bioluminescent swarm. The music is all ably performed, but the songs just aren’t tied into the narrative all that well. The one musical sequence that really works is the one that uses Under Pressure, and that might just be due to the song’s inherent power, rather than any effort made by the film. The voice acting is all pretty good. Elijah Wood reprises his role and puts up a fine, sympathetic performance. Robin Williams can get tiring, but he works well within a cartoon setting. And Hank Azaria is always delightful.

There’s a channel on cable called Baby TV. There are no real programs on the channel; just segments that feature pretty shapes or cute animals accompanied by some sort of soothing music. It’s not hard to imagine Happy Feet Two fitting in with their programming. The penguins are cute, the environments are stunning, and the music is all pretty okay. But at the core of it, even with the climate change messaging, it all feels like random nonsense just tenuously held together. The film has good moments, but it’s more concerned with the marketability of feathers than with creating a coherent story. Rather than build its story, the film is just more likely to cut away to some adorable Antarctic animal. It isn’t terrible, but we should be asking for more.

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