“Happy Feet Two” is such a messy, giddy collage of undisciplined storytelling and half-developed subplots that I’m amazed I enjoyed it as much as I did. Like its predecessor, also directed and co-written by George Miller (“Babe: Pig in the City,” the “Mad Max” series), the sequel gets by largely on goofy energy and good-naturedness, not quote-unquote “strong writing” or “clear ideas.”
As we recall from re-reading our review of the first movie, the emperor penguins of Antarctica used to express themselves primarily through song, and frowned upon dancing, until one of them, a kid named Mumble (voice of Elijah Wood), taught them the power of dance, or something. The sequel commences with Mumble now happily married to Gloria (Alecia Moore, aka Pink), and the whole tribe cheerfully singin’ and dancin’ all the live-long day. Now, wouldn’t you know it, because it’s a sequel and history must repeat itself, Mumble and Gloria’s shy little hatchling, Erik (Ava Acres), doesn’t dance. He feels like an outcast because of it. It’s a classic reverse “Billy Elliot” scenario.
Meanwhile, in the part of Antarctica where the penguins have Latino accents, our feisty friend Ramon (Robin Williams, using an exaggerated accent) is trying to woo a sexy new female, Carmen (Sofia Vergara, using her regular speaking voice). Also, an exotic new penguin named Sven (Hank Azaria) has arrived. He has a Scandinavian accent and can fly! A penguin who can fly! He looks suspiciously like a puffin, not a penguin, but maybe that’s a spoiler? Anyway, Ramon is jealous of the attention received by the glad-handing, Harold Hill-like Sven.
Meanwhile, in the ocean are two tiny krill named Will (Brad Pitt) and Bill (Matt Damon). Will wants to leave the massive krill swarm and move up the food chain — really live a little, you know? He and Bill flit in and out of the rest of the film, occasionally intersecting with whatever the main plot happens to be at the moment, and sometimes seeming like they’re in their own movie altogether.
Meanwhile — there is a lot of meanwhile in this movie — a shifting ice formation has trapped all the emperor penguins in a giant valley, preventing them from accessing the sea and thus food. (Climate change is apparently the cause, though that point isn’t underscored.) It’s up to the handful of their kind who weren’t home when it happened to help them get out and find a new site for their colony.
Whew! That’s a lot for one movie. (I didn’t even mention the flashbacks to Sven’s encounter with humans, or the intimidating elephant seal that harasses Mumble.) The trapped penguins are the real story; everything else is included for funsies, and to give the characters from the last movie something to do. It is clear that “Happy Feet Two” is not one of those sequels that are rushed into production because someone had a really, really good idea for a story.
That being said, it’s consistently amusing, sometimes deliriously fun, with slick and vibrant animation. It has upbeat messages about helping one another and the value of every individual. The musical numbers, primarily existing pop songs but some written for the film, are made even catchier than before by the addition of choreography. One of the original songs is, I kid you not, an operatic aria — characteristic of the film’s likably weird, try-everything-and-see-what-sticks mentality. It won’t be the best cartoon of the year; thanks to “Rango,” it won’t even be the most eccentric. But it’ll do, penguin. It’ll do.
B- (1 hr., 40 min.; )