How can a movie that looks so much like the original, wonderful tale of singing and dancing animated penguins become such an awful sequel? The animation in Happy Feet 2 is great, with amazing Antarctic scenery, realistic-looking animals like seals, birds, and of course penguins who not only look like penguins but can dance and sing and show all kinds of human expressions. But that is where the good stuff in common between the first movie and this sequel ends. Warning: If all you care about in this movie is animated cuteness, you should probably stop reading.
The new movie has a meandering plot which culminates in a disaster rescue story, of sorts. However, there are all kinds of irrelevant plot threads (especially a ridiculous B-story about Bill and Will, a pair of krill — aka microscopic shrimp — life-partners). As for the music, it was originally used to represent the penguin’s soul (its “heart song”). In this movie the musical numbers vary wildly from chaotic mass production numbers to characters bursting into song like a Broadway musical. One particularly ill-fitting number is when baby penguin Eric is defending the honor of his father Mumble (the hero of the first movie) to a bunch of elephant seals. All of the sudden Eric is sing-talking in operatic style. If you think it’s jarring to hear a little kid sing opera, wait until you see a baby penguin doing it.
The overall story seems to be a jumble of bits and pieces rather than a clear arc following the adventures of a single main hero. Ostensibly we’re with little Eric when he runs away with Adelie penguin Ramon (played again by Robin Williams) back to his home colony, and with Mumble (reprised by Elijah Wood) when he goes after his son, but some of the focus seems to be on Ramon and his quest for love with Carmen (voiced by Modern Family’s Sofia Vergara), and of course there’s that darn pair of krill (voiced by A-listers Brad Pitt and Matt Damon). I have no idea why they decided to add the subplot about the two krill who want to leave their swarm to find out about the universe beyond. Will the krill decides he wants to move up the food chain and tries to become a predator — oh my gosh, even writing a synopsis of that makes me feel silly. You don’t know how many times I felt disappointed that they weren’t squished when the scene clearly implied that they would be (plus wouldn’t krill die outside of water? They can’t have adventures with the penguins!)
Another new character is Sven, the charismatic leader of the Adelie colony who have become his cult (didn’t they already cover this kind of thing in the first movie with Lovelace, the rock-hopper penguin who saw visions after getting tangled in plastic garbage)? Anyway, Sven (along with Lovelace, who’s back) inspires other penguins with his tales of human encounters and his ability to fly (y’see, Sven is actually a puffin, not a penguin).
The environmental theme that closed out the first movie carries over: this time the melting of polar ice actually puts our penguin heroes in danger as melting ice causes and iceberg to cut off their entire valley from the ocean. The emperor penguins are going to starve to death. By the time the movie came to its triumphant conclusion, I really didn’t care whether the penguins were saved. Nevertheless, cuteness and sentiment won out and I was a little moved when Eric was reunited with his mother, Gloria. Good thing the rest of the Antarctic creatures were able to band together to move the iceberg and save the day. It’s all wonderfully touchy-feely, but I’m pretty sure that’s not how the circle of life really works (even at the south pole). (3 out of 5)