Combustible Celluloid
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With: (voices) Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, Pink, E.G. Daily, Sofia Vergara, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Hugo Weaving, Anthony LaPaglia, Hank Azaria, Johnny A. Sanchez, Lombardo Boyar, Carlos Alazraqui, Michael Cornacchia, Danny Mann, Jeffrey Garcia, Magda Szubanski, Richard Carter, Common, Meibh Campbell, Lil P-Nut, Mark Klastorin
Written by: George Miller, Gary Eck, Warren Coleman, Paul Livingston
Directed by: George Miller
MPAA Rating: PG for some rude humor and mild peril
Running Time: 100
Date: 11/17/2011

Happy Feet Two (2011)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Foot Prince

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Most kids' movies are designed to distract, more than anything else. You could argue that they "entertain," though that term is negligible. But throughout history, the kids' tales that go into the darkest of places -- where something is actually at stake -- are the ones that stand the test of time. Happy Feet (2006) was such a movie, and its new sequel Happy Feet Two is just as good.

Part of the reason for this is the 66 year-old Australian filmmaker George Miller. Though this is only his eighth feature film, his career began more than 30 years ago with the first three Mad Max films. He veered into black comedy with The Witches of Eastwick (1987) -- though Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) had its share of dark comedy as well -- and then a dark, unflinching medical drama, Lorenzo's Oil (1992). Then he embarked upon his children's phase, producing the original Babe (1995) before directing the awesome, underappreciated sequel Babe: Pig in the City (1998). If Americans were not quite ready for that movie, they were much more welcoming of Happy Feet, which became far and away the highest-grossing movie of Miller's career.

In Happy Feet, the theme was, ostensibly, "believe in yourself," but the main character, a dancing penguin Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood) had to go through a truly harrowing and exciting adventure -- a test -- before being able to put that knowledge to use. His victory was absolutely earned, rather than a foregone conclusion.

Now Mumble is a grown-up, and still connected to his loving mate Gloria; the late Brittany Murphy voiced Gloria in the last film, and pop star Pink (a.k.a. Alecia Beth Moore) takes over for her here. Their son, Erik (voiced by the great E.G. Daily, who also voiced the baby Mumble in the first film), is, like his father, unusual and special. He doesn't really understand the necessity of singing or dancing. He runs away and discovers another tribe of penguins, led by the charismatic Sven (voiced by Hank Azaria), who can fly. From that moment on, Erik decides he wants to fly, too. And Sven tells him that if he wills it, he can make it happen.

Now of course, this can never happen; although these penguins can talk, sing and dance, it's apparent that Erik will never fly. The movie begins on this tangent, but it's a red herring for the real theme, a theme which is becoming increasingly prevalent in our media- and device-saturated world: we are all connected (and not by computers).

Mumble chases after Erik, fetches him and his two little penguin friends, and returns to his own camp, only to find that, in their absence, a glacier has melted, moved, and trapped all their families and friends in a canyon with no escape.

Who can help? Certainly Ramon (voiced by Robin Williams) -- who returns from the first movie -- and his tribe can pitch in. Incidentally, in this movie Ramon gets to fall in love and endlessly pursue Carmen (voiced by Sofia Vergara). But I digress. Mumble rescues and befriends a huge elephant seal, who offers to repay the favor, so that's another helper. Humans appear in this movie, as well, and though there is damning evidence of the effects of their manmade climate crisis, the humans in this movie are hippies with beards and guitars; they're good and kind to other creatures (except for a sequence in which we see them eating roast chicken).

Finally, and most hilariously, we get a couple of krill, who break off from the swarm in search of something different. Will (voiced by Brad Pitt) decides to become a carnivore ("I want to chew on something that has a face!") and his lonely friend Bill (voiced by Matt Damon) tags along. These two guys are endlessly funny, and though they don't seem to tie into the rest of the tale, they eventually provide the final push needed.

Of course, nothing is easy. Characters become exasperated, and some give up. Others pitch in to urge them on, or take a turn. Nobody is a hero all the time. It's a true team effort. To hammer this home, it seems as if every character in the film has a different accent: Australian, Swedish, Spanish, English, etc. It's a global experience.

If Miller is fearless enough to spin this morally and logically complex tale, deepening it and strengthening it with tough, dark themes, his technical filmmaking prowess are equal to the task. The film moves quickly through the ocean or on top of the ice, and the feel is always clean and clear. Nothing is ever muddled, or too fast, or too shaky; Miller doesn't need to cover anything up here. The only thing missing is that the right-wingers who try to deny global warming are not represented here; they, too, are connected to everything, even if they don't like the idea.

Regardless, Happy Feet Two is a masterful work, and its density and intelligence will only grow more effective over time and (if you're a parent) multiple viewings.

Warner Home Video's new Blu-Ray release comes with a neat feature: a movie app that allows you to access behind-the-scenes stuff on your phone as you watch the movie on your TV. A good idea? Only time will tell. The other extras are geared for kids: a featurette on Antarctica, hosted by Lil' P-Nut, a short on how to draw Erik, an interview with P!nk, and more, very short items. Visual quality is superb, as is that of nearly any movie created on a computer. The set also includes the dreaded "Ultraviolet" streaming version, a format that everyone seems to hate.

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