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Family Friendly Trilogy Episode Two: Happy Feet Two

tn_happyfeettwoThe most philosophically ambitious of the 3 PG-rated movies I watched is the one that’ll probly get the least credit for it, George Motherfuckin Two Men Enter One Man Leaves Miller’s HAPPY FEET TWO. And first of all I want to give them credit for spelling out the number in their sequel title and not misspelling it for a pun. I’m sure it’s not the first spelled out non-homonym sequel title in history, but I couldn’t name you another one.

I don’t like to discuss it too much publicly, but I happen to like the first HAPPY FEET. I saw it out of Miller devotion and Bartertown pride, but was surprised how good it actually was. I gotta kind of bear with it for the MOULIN ROUGE type rock musical aspects (elaborately re-orchestrated versions of well known pop songs are used as a metaphor for penguin mating squawks), though I respect their strangeness. What I do like is the rest of the movie which is treated as a serious penguin epic with a harrowing journey, stunning CGI landscapes, surreal SPACE ODYSSEY-esque encounters with human civilization, and an original Prince song on the end credits that he did unsolicited and for free because he liked the movie so much when they screened it to convince him to let them alter the pronouns in the lyrics to “Kiss.”

mp_happyfeettwoHAPPY FEET TWO is messier than the first one. It seems more interested in exploring Miller’s big ideas than zeroing in on a focused story. Part One’s hero Mumble (Elijah Wood from FLIPPER) is now grown up (but still freakishly fuzzy) and has a kid named Eric. The events of One have changed the status quo so that Mumbles’s unique gift of tapdancing is now a societal expectation, which causes great humiliation for his uncoordinated son, causing him to fall into the ice while dancing and then pee all over himself (I wonder why they didn’t make that more of a 3D gimmick?)

So Eric wanders off and discovers a mega-church type ice patch where part One’s guru Lovelace (Robin Williams) now plays second fiddle to a bigger star, a “flying penguin” who’s obviously a puffin (Hank Azaria). And Eric decides that’s what he wants to do, he wants to fly. So the movie sort of pulls the rug out from under the feel-good message of the first one. Maybe you can’t do anything you believe in. Maybe you can dream too big, even if your pops taught penguinkind to communicate with humans through tapdancing.

The best parts are little side incidents and happenings along the way. There’s a great scene where a monstrous elephant seal is kind of an asshole to him, suffers a karmic fall from a cliff, accepts that he’s done for and asks Mumbles for the favor of getting his 2 adorable pups home. But Mumbles is Christlike (or at least Babe 2-like) enough to try to rescue the dude instead.

I also like the scenes about Lovelace and the puffin guy being rescued by humans (live action ones). In these movies humans are like aliens, and their objects (a sweater, some garbage) are like the Ark of the Covenant or something that turns the animals they touch into gods among birds. It’s too bad about the wacky accents. But somehow a scene where the Williams character amuses humans with air guitar comes off… I don’t know… weirdly beautiful. It’s not like some joke out of ALADDIN. It’s a confused animal doing something he feels but doesn’t fully understand, and the people are somewhere in between having a laugh and communing with nature. I can’t really explain it.

There’s also a subplot about two krill voiced by Brad Pitt and Matt Damon. The pittkrill must be the Tyler Durden of tiny shrimp things, because he decides to swim in the opposite direction of the swarm and find out what happens. He ends up far enough away to see his people as an orange cloud being eaten by a whale. It’s as if he touched the monolith and saw a God’s eye view of his existence. He sees that his people are living their lives not knowing that their whole purpose is to be food, but he refuses to go along with that.

The krill go on a whole adventure and don’t talk to the penguins or anything. They’re like that squirrel in the ICE AGE saga except kinda deep. Some reviews have complained that they have nothing to do with the rest of the movie. Yeah, they’re mostly separate from the plot, but they have everything to do with the themes of both movies. Their tiny feet create a vibration that together with the cooperation of the rest of the eco-system, saves the penguins from a cave-in that was itself caused by a chain of events beginning with a single waterdrop. It’s all about how all the specieses are connected and about the importance of even the tiniest and most supposedly useless creatures. And if you think about it they never would’ve done it without the influence of Mumbles teaching everybody to dance. His art saves everybody for the second time.

In case anybody cares, the Three Dee in this one is along the lines of the Pixar movies – at first it looks pretty cool (especially in the krill swarm) but after a while you kind of forget it’s there. So it’s not a muddy detriment like some of the fake 3D, but it’s not that much of an addition. I didn’t regret it though because I saw it in Imax and the big screen and sound system were a major plus.

I think you should all see this today in the most expensive format available ’cause it’s not doing all that hot and we don’t need an excuse for delay #36 on MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. Come on guys, we all benefit from this. Everybody better pitch in. The krill did.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Monday, December 5th, 2011 at 11:46 am and is filed under Cartoons and Shit, Family, Musical, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

32 Responses to “Family Friendly Trilogy Episode Two: Happy Feet Two”

  1. “and an original Prince song on the end credits that he did unsolicited and for free because he liked the movie so much when they screened it to convince him to let them alter the pronouns in the lyrics to “Kiss.””

    Reminds me of that Internet single he released the other week, taking a legendary 80s bootleg in “Extralovable” and replacing the rape lyrics with the arguably just as cringeworthy verse “You’ll be my Care Bears/I’ll be Your Elmo!”

  2. Vern’s sales pitch and the recent conservative outrage (which should reflect a fringe attitude but sadly does not in today’s US, what I believe Daniel Tosh condescendingly caustically calls “this Sesame Street country”) over this movie have compelled me to splurge on seeing it in 3D.

    Off topic — Vern said he disliked RANGO, but I’d like to see him make this a PG Quadruple Feature for 2 reasons:
    1. Vern is wrong about RANGO. It’s pretty great.

    2. RANGO qualifies for a subchapter in the ongoing studies of a certain Badass Laureate.

  3. Happy Feet Two doesn’t deserve the critical drubbing it’s receiving, at the moment – all of the reviews I’ve read basically dislike the film for the one element of its inclusion of pop songs into the soundtrack, which is silly. This film in particular goes darker, deeper and even weirder – and yet, even happier by the time the end’s final number rolls around.

    Death’s become this strong element, with the penguins trapped in the colony trying to keep themselves from falling into starvation, or famine, or vulnerability to the environment itself or the circling birds of pray, or eventually even societal breakdown. There’s this fascinating focus on the interrelationships that keep an environment moving that begins with the first frame, a drop of water leading to a catastrophic iceberg, and all the way to the end, with a tiny krill giving the final stomp that knocks it down in an intriguing bit of visual poetry – and this filters down into the characters of the film, too. It’s all about debts. The film has no true villain, merely a web of interconnected citizens whose character we judge based on their responses to a tough situation. It really is the Pig In The City to the first film’s Babe, and considering my well-known regard for that first movie, that’s saying something.

    While it’s not quite as concise as the original, I don’t think it’s meant to be, and there’s much to appreciate here. I mean, look at that scene where the skuas attack the trapped colony. That might be one of the best action sequences of this year, because of how intensely it’s orchestrated – from it’s tense, silent beginnings of thousands of little silhouettes against a clear sky to it’s bombastic conclusion as the reinforcements arrive and the colony begins to fight back. That alone gives it top marks, and makes me excited for Fury Road. Miller’s still got it.

  4. This conservative/capitalist outrage has got to be the pussiest bullshit I’ve ever heard in my life. “Wah! We’ve got all the money and power in the world but the poor people like to laugh at jokes at our expense made by children’s puppets! Woe is fucking me!”

    Dear rich people: If you’re going to make the world your private litterbox, at least have the common decency not to pretend like you’re the ones getting shat on.

  5. I gotta say I was really disappointed by HF2, i was a big fan of the first one for all the same reasons Vern listed, but this one just fell totally flat for me. My fave bits were the Krill, and I’m in the camp that didn’t feel the connection between their story and the penguin’s story. And while I do understand the point about “we need all forms of life, we’re all connected,” I feel like they could have done a better job of connecting these stories thematically.

    And I agree with Mouth – Rango is pretty great.

  6. Mouth/Chris – Induct me into the RANGO fanclub as well. Good “kids movie” for adults.

  7. now I strangely want to see these Happy Feet movies, good job Vern

    and I’ve always thought that we are to animals what aliens are to us

  8. So only crazy redneck animals claim to have seen us?

  9. So ZOO is for animals basically what FIRE IN THE SKY is for us?

  10. maybe so

    I’ve always imagined stray cats for example saying “hey man, you remember Freddy? the red headed tabby? yeah well the other night me and him were out prowling for some food, ya know maybe some females when all of a sudden there was this bright white light and some loud noise and from this light came some THING man! like some sort of tall being, walking on two legs! I’m tellin’ ya man, I freaked out and got the hell out of there, but Freddy, he stayed behind, when the bright light and noise went away….Freddy was gone! I’m telling ya man, there’s something out there, we re not alone….”

    and the other cats would be all like “yeah what the fuck ever Richard, you’re all strung out on catnip you moron”

    plus my cats often stare at me so intensely, like deep down they understand I’m not one of them and they’re trying to figure me out

  11. Is it wrong that the fact this movie has a “We’re Bringin’ Sexy Back” pastiche about 5 years past the point of being at all relevant puts me completely off seeing it, no matter how good it is?

  12. So, the movie is a feature length version of that poem from Oldboy?

  13. Stu: You don’t think maybe it might take a while for the new shit to make it to Antarctica? Somehow I doubt penguins are downloading songs the day they comes out. They gotta wait for a migrating tern from Argentina to slip them a burned CD or something.

  14. I’m always confused by animals in that…do they know that they’re animals and not humans? The common test for self-awareness is to see if an animal can identify himself in a mirror. A dog cannot (coincidentally, I once failed this test during a particularly strange Salvia trip), but he can see other dogs and identify them. If a dog can identify other dogs and identify humans, can he discern that he is a dog and not a human, or does the idea of specisization beyond him in the first place? Are we just strange dogs to him? Does he even have a sense of “self” verses the world around him?

    This shit bothers me, man.

  15. I had big problems with this on a story level. I found it really manulartive that both the main plot and several subplots were about characters almost dying and getting saved right at e moment where you feel worst. Now I love death movies, LOVE movies about grief. But I hate when movies play it for the cheap tear jerk. Especially a kids movie where the audience is most vulnerable you just throw in those Bambi’s mom moments.

    But damned if I didn’t feel food at the end of this. I guess those themes seeped their way into it. I found the krill really annoying, but yeah, it seems to all fit together.

    By the way, Hank Azaria is one of my favorite actors. Like on the same line as Nicolas Cage, just a few slots over. I just love the way he creates characters.

  16. There’s “Ring Two” and I think “Piranha Part Two The Spawning,” also.

    Anyway, excellent review. I don’t doubt this film has value, or is artful. Part One had those qualities, the part with the leopard seal and the journey to Australia. But I hate those hyperized Kidz Bop versions of those songs, pretending they have meaning. Selling me something.

    In “Moulin Rouge” the pop songs where used for absurdity or as actual love songs, at least.

  17. Griff: I don’t know if you’re an X-FILES fan, but there was a funny early episode that asks some of the questions you’ve posed in your post, except from the perspective of cockroaches, not cats. The basic idea is that humans are too brutal, deluded and self-obsessed to recognize the unfamiliarity of anything alien as anything other than a threat.

    You also learn that cockroaches tend to wash themselves after having contact with humans, which always cracks me up.

  18. Majestyk- Regardless, I’d expect even penguins to have found the phrase as played out as quickly as humans did(I think two weeks, maybe a month, tops?).

  19. I never had any use for Justin Timberlake or penguins , so I don’t really have a dog in this fight. In fact, and I apologize if this sounds harsh, but the very sight of that adorable fucking fuzzy little shitstain makes me want to punch people.

    I also don’t like the looks of this Mumble character.

  20. Brandon – oh God, The Ring Two, not that was a terrible movie, I actually liked the original Ring, but that sequel was awful, remember the scene with the hilariously fake looking CGI deer that attack Naomi Watt’s car? I was LAUGHING MY ASS OFF at that scene and you’re telling me that was meant to be scary?

    it was so bad in fact that they never made a third, despite originally planning too, I’ve also noticed that the “American J Horror remakes” trend his gone away in recent years

    Jareth Cutestory – I have indeed scene that episode of the X Files, also fun fact, I am deathly afraid of cockroaches, they’re one of my worst phobias, I mean they strike pure, animalistic fear in my heart, ESPECIALLY the really big ones, those scare me enough to where I almost feel like I’m going to pass out

  21. Hey, fellas.

    Haven’t been able to read Vern’s writings much over the past month. Been working my nuts off (had a week of nothing but 20 hour days).

    Didn’t read this review, but since it involves George Miller, I thought I’d mention that his new Mad Max will be shooting round my neck of the woods (i.e. desert) starting next year April, and that I might be working on it. Haven’t accepted the job yet. It’s a 7-9 month commitment and I’m not really sure I want to be stuck in the dunes for that long a time. Would be a great experience, though. Tom Hardy’s gonna nail that character.

  22. Griff: So I guess I probably shouldn’t mention how a female cockroach can produce 50,000 offspring each year. And that sometimes they crawl up your nose.

  23. “And that sometimes they crawl up your nose.”

    I don’t believe that, that sounds too much like the urban legend of spider crawling into your mouth

  24. @Brandon

    I think the use of pop music in these films actually has a fair bit more weight to it than Moulin Rouge – none of the songs that the films make a point out of using are meaningless, and in the first film not only do they act as love songs in the personal sense, but as a social glue, and near the end of the movie, they grow into something more universal, with the Beatles “The End” playing over a dreamlike montage of humanity reacting in the way that it does over the news that hey, there might be something to these dancing penguins. In the UN they fight and quarrel, children dance to it the world over, it becomes an internet sensation and eventually a cause for animal rights riots. But, eventually empathy wins over – is it a little too hopeful? I like to think it’s not.

    In the second movie, this is true as well but in a weirder sense – the first ten minutes of the movie is this giant celebration and a medley of all these different types of songs, so there’s a bigger sense of fun inherent to it. But, there’s a strong train of thought behind every one – every large song included in the film is about communities holding together in times of struggle. “Rhythm Nation,” “Under Pressure” with added lyrics to be specifically about that, and on and on.

  25. Don’t forget Pet Sematary Two.

  26. Unfortunately HAPPY FEET TWO has reportedly underperformed to the tune of 600 redundancies. BABE:PIG IN THE CITY also helped create a few pink slips. Whenever George Miller does an ambitious and unusual kid’s film sequel, there’s trouble.

    Have to say though that I don’t really get the high esteem PIG IN THE CITY is/was held in by Siskel & Ebert, The Nostalgia Critic, Tom Waits(!), (Vern?) and others. I know it’s a very sincere effort to bring creative and intelligent entertainment to family audiences in a way that doesn’t talk down to them, but, gee, it’s a real mess, and one I found pretty unpleasant to watch too.

  27. No. Those people were gonna be laid off anyway. What would they need 600 animators for if their next project is live action? Animators are hired on a project by project basis.

  28. It was a digital production company. And they weren’t all animators

  29. Most of them were temp jobs anyhow – by no means was Happy Feet Two a bomb, but it still only made half what the first film made in the same span of time. Which is primarily because it ran up against Twilight and The Muppets, lets be honest.

    I’m sure they were expecting this. No big loss.

  30. My kid is obsessed with the first HAPPY FEET movie at the moment. The shine comes off after you’ve seen it a hundred fucking times. One thing I can’t stop thinking about is the reaction when Mumbles starts dancing in the Seaworld exhibit. In any other kids movie it would be treated as a joke (“Ha ha, look at the funny penguin”) or at most he would become a local tourist attraction. In HAPPY FEET people lose their fucking shit! It causes an international crisis! I mean, if a penguin started doing a spontaneously choreographed tap routine right in front of you, it would blow your mind. Mankind’s whole conception of animal self-awareness would go straight out the window. We’ve built a whole society around the axiom that humanity is an inherently superior species, the Descartian notion that we are the only species who are truly conscious. Imagine if we discovered that animals were way, way more intelligent than we realised. What would that mean for things like factory farming and industrialised slaughterhouses? Suddenly that “Chaos reigns!” fox in ANTI-CHRIST is way more terrifying to me.

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