Thursday, November 17, 2011

Happy Feet Two

The Next Generation

Happy Feet took home the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film of the Year 2007, but that film had everything - song, dance, comedy, drama, romance and of course the feel good factor. One would have thought that success meant a fast-track into getting a sequel out, but it actually took some 5 years before it actually did. George Miller assume the entire directorial responsibility this time round, with the story co-written by Warren Coleman, Paul Livingston and George Miller somewhat making this a little bit darker in tone, with much less comedy, with more of a dark, brooding overtone that hammers home its environmental message.

Gone are the colours and the more light hearted moments thanks to the Robin Williams voiced hippy penguin Ramon, who now takes a backseat to just trying his best to romance fellow penguin Carmen (Sofia Vergara), and in comes a terribly overt evangelistic feel with the presence of a new character The Mighty Sven (Hank Azaria), whom the penguins all worship for its flight ability, charisma and glib tongue. It cannot be more pronounced of the intent to show how these characters turn out to be nothing but false prophets, what with his miraculous ability of flight for a penguin, the rote religious preaches and sermons he gives, and not to forget the promise to deliver the emperor penguins from their current environmental plight, starting with the vast plans to provide fish for his new flock.

New characters also got introduced to expand the scale of the story now to involve the smallest of life forms with two Krills, Will (Brad Pitt) and Bill (Matt Damon), the former adamant in striking out on his own and to evolve from a non-conformist environment where they swim around and be sitting ducks to larger prey, while the latter is the voice of rational thought, and comfort, joining Will only because he has but one friend. And on the other end of the size spectrum, we have the Leopard Seals with nasty, combative attitudes, whom you'd identify as key to the plot in the third act once Mumble (Elijah Wood) starts to tap his happy feet.

Mumble is now all grown up and has a family of his own, with wife Gloria (voiced by the late Brittany Murphy in the earlier film, with singer Pink now taking over) and kid Erik (Ava Acres), a shy little one who neither can sing like his mom or dance like his dad, and becomes the prodigal son taking after his dad, well ok, the co-protagonist of this sequel. Why there's a need to have baby penguins boil down to the simple reason that they're cute, and will draw in the crowds. Much of the plot centres around how Mumble tries to connect with his young son, and finds it terribly tough to do so, but adversity no thanks to the threat faced by the entire Emperor Penguin community left stranded due to shifting ice, provides the opportunity especially when Erik can witness just how innovative and heroic his dad can actually be, compared to his idol Sven. Every boy needs a hero, and it works when one is close by.

Like the Ice Age franchise which is still going on strong, the message about saving our environment, and with that the species which are dependent on the preservation of their natural habitat, can't get any more pronounced in this installment, especially with carefully crafted sound design and visuals to warn just how fragile this balance is, through the multiple shots of icy landscapes breaking up at every opportunity. With kids and their parents expected to make a beeline for this film, the target audience's all set in taking home these none too subtle reminders. There's a stoic seriousness in the story, though balanced by both Brad Pitt and Matt Damon's Krill characters being nothing other than comedic fodder with their rapid fire dialogue exchange, and Pitt's Will being one of the most delusional animated characters for some time to come.

Some may frown at the religious overtones the narrative tended to dwell onto in the mid-section, and the many song and dance sequences and medleys that really padded up the film to a 100 minutes that felt longer than its runtime, but Happy Feet Two still had enough reserves in its tank to make it a wholesome family entertainer, though a lot more serious in treatment than its predecessor.

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