Five years after those toe-tapping penguins sashayed into cinemas, George Miller (Babe) returns to Antarctica with Happy Feet Two. A truly strange animated film that I can’t fathom many people clamoured for, but still manages to succeed at being an inventive experience. While the plot – Mumbles (Elijah Wood, Wilfred) must save his penguin clan after they become trapped by a moving glacier – seems curiously secondary, where Miller succeeds is in the oft breathtaking animation, choice music selections and a truly radical subplot involving a pair of krill that must be seen to be believed.
Part of the charm of Miller’s 2006 original was its inherent strangeness; not content to work within familiar family film beats, Happy Feet veered about through action sequences, musical numbers, live-action, comedy and all sorts of bizarre, subversive imagery. Happy Feet Two ups the ante in many regards, which is to say that it feels less manufactured and plastic than a lot of other animated films of 2011. It shares more in common with the brash lunacy of Rango than the safe, flat work of Arthur Christmas despite the similarly chilly locals of the latter.
The celebrity voice cast is a mixed bag. Elijah Wood is merely okay and an obnoxious Robin Williams (Aladdin) again voices several characters including a Mexican penguin romancing Sofia Vergara (Modern Family) that defies all logic. Rapper Common appears, as do recognisable locals Magda Szubanski (Babe), Anthony LaPaglia (Lantana) and Richard Carter (East West 101) as various ice-bound creatures. They all more or less get the job done, although P!nk (yes, that’s how she is credited), replacing the late Brittany Murphy, lacks some of her predecessor’s more quirky earthiness when she isn’t belting out a tune.
If the voice work isn’t exciting then the animation sure is. Radically improving upon the first, Happy Feet Two’s Australian production team can boast some truly awe-inspiring work. Shots of tiny krill with their transparent shells and skinny legs scampering across microscopic snowflakes are wondrous to behold, which brings me to this film’s most peculiar, interesting, brave and downright excellent feature – the krill! Voiced by Brad Pitt and Matt Damon, Will and Bill Krill are, as far as I can tell, the first gay characters in a mainstream animated film. Miller and his co-writers (too many to know who did what) have not shied away from not only the innuendo that comes from their “bromance”, but have made these two lovebirds into a rather touching and progressive moment for modern cinema. It’s not the only way that Happy Feet Two distinguishes itself, but it’s an endearing twist on a genre that has found itself on autopilot this past year.
Happy Feet Two is released in Australia on December 26th
Director: George Miller
Cast: Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, P!nk, Sofia Vergara, Common, Richard Carter, Hugo Weaving,
Anthony LaPaglia, Magda Szubanski, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Ava Acres