Thursday, 7 March 2013

Bringing fluffy back - Happy Feet Two in IMAX 3D

Happy Feet Two in IMAX 3D

You can count on one flipper the number of sequels that are better than the original movie.  The Godfather Part II?  Arguable.  The Matrix sequels?  Eh, no.  The Empire Strikes Back?  Definitely.  Mad Max 2? Oh, yes…  Which brings us to Mad Max-director George Miller’s latest film, Happy Feet Two, the sequel to his enormously successful 2006 cute-dancing-penguin movie, Happy Feet.

Five years on from the events of Happy Feet, dancing Emperor penguin Mumble (Elijah Wood) and his mate Gloria are now parents but their chick Erik (Ava Acres) is definitely a chip off the old block.  Like his father in the first film, Erik’s a little neurotic and lacks confidence.  He’s too scared to dance and feels like an outcast.  When the other penguins laugh at his ungainly attempts footwork, Erik does what any self-respecting, cute, juvenile, talking animal in an animated kids movie would do; he and two friends run away from home, taking with them Mumble’s motor-mouthed best buddy, Hispanic-penguin Ramon (Robin Williams). 

With a worried Mumble in hot pursuit, they head for the neighbouring Adelie-land, home to penguin guru Lovelace (Williams again), Ramon’s Amigos and the Adelie penguins, where Ramon has convinced them they’ll be accepted for who they are.  Once there, Erik is dazzled by his new hero, Sven the flying ‘penguin’ (who looks suspiciously like a puffin and is voiced by Simpsons favourite Hank Azaria) who’s worshipped like a messiah by the Adelies who practice his feel-good mantra “If you want it, you must will it. If you will it, it will be yours.”

But when climate change causes a rogue iceberg to trap Gloria and the Emperors, cutting them off from the ocean and its fish, threatening them with starvation, it’s up to Mumble and Erik to save the Emperor nation.

Meanwhile, two tiny krill, Will (Brad Pitt) and Bill (Matt Damon) just realised they’re at the bottom of the food chain and set out on a spiritual and philosophical quest to evolve…

A kids film that’s actually intelligent as well as exuberant, feel-good fun, Miller ups the pleasure ante on the original film without softening or dumbing down the film’s eco-message.  While the colony was under threat before from human overfishing, this time round it’s global warming and the effects of rapid climate change that endanger the penguins.  In a none-too-subtle but still effective plea for global cooperation and brotherhood, Mumble and Erik enlist a host of other Antarctic creatures to help save the colony, everyone working together for the good of the whole.  If the drive of the first film was Mumble’s quest for identity and battle for acceptance, this time round it’s son Erik who must rebel and find his way in life while Mumble must prove himself as a father and win back his son’s love leading to possibly the most naked tugging of heartstrings in a film this year as Erik adapts Cavardossi’s aria from Tosca into a loving ode to his father that would make Puccini proud and bring tears to a glass eye.

Visually the film is stunning, the seductive 3D immersing you in the film’s world of dazzling snowy vistas and murky ocean depths, and if you see it in IMAX (as I did at London’s BFI IMAX which boasts the UK’s largest screen) the effect is jaw-dropping; battalions of penguins dancing around you, swimming in the midst of a swarm of krill.  There’s nothing quite so joyous as looking around at an audience of under-7s and watching them duck as a predatory whale glides past overhead, try to catch snow or reach out and try and pop 3D air bubbles.

The performances are fantastic with Elijah Wood’s Mumble a credible new parent trying desperately to relate to his offspring and Ava Acres making Erik as cute and lovable as he looks while Pink replaces the late Brittany Murphy seamlessly as Gloria.  Williams again pulls double duty as latin-lover Ramon and laidback Lovelace, breathing life into these two very different characters but this time he shares comedy duties with Hank Azaria’s deluded, puffed-up puffin and Pitt and Damon who practically swim off with the film as the philosophical krill, Will and Bill, who could have wandered in from a Beckett play. 

Pitt’s Will is a blustering adventurer, gripped by existential crisis when he realises that he matters little in the grand scheme of things and resolves to move on up the food chain by becoming a carnivore (“I want to chew on something that has a face!”), Damon is the sensitive Bill, a timid critter who worships the water Will swims in.  Their homoerotic bromance and quest to discover their individuality provides both the funniest, smartest exchanges in the film (“I fear the worst,” says one, the other replying “I fear the worst too because fearing the best is a complete waste of time.”) as well as some of the dumbest, corniest krill-based puns (“I’m one in a krillion!”) ever uttered.  Though they appear to matter little to the tale and seem to be on hand merely to provide comic relief much as Scrat in Ice Age does, ultimately their intervention is crucial, cementing Miller’s theme of community.

The songs are jukebox sing-along fare with a particular highlight being the opening medley of Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation and Justin Trousersnake’s SexyBack, adapted into something more child and penguin friendly as a troop of fluffy penguin chicks sing “I’m bringing fluffy back,” while regiments of Emperor penguins dance their flippers off, the hesitant Erik an oasis of stillness while the employment of Queen and David Bowie’s Under Pressure leads to a soaring, chest-swelling climax.

Funny, intelligent and heartwarming, Happy Feet Two is the kids film to beat this Christmas.    

David Watson

George Miller
Elijah Wood, Ava Acres, Pink, Robin Williams, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Hank Azaria, Anthony La Paglia, Common, Hugo Weaving.
Running time
99 minutes

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