Talk about a versatile director. George Miller, who years ago was at the helm for all the gritty and violent Mad Max films, dials up some of the most tender and heartfelt moments depicted on screen this year with Happy Feet Two. As of today, the front-runner for Best Animated Film for 2011 has arrived. And for someone (me) who historically pans the 3D gimmick, it’s actually put to good use in this 105 minute presentation.
We pick up with the dancing penguin, Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood), who is trying to get his young son, Erik (cutely voiced by the young Ava Acres), to embrace their dancing culture that is now practiced all over their glacier territory. Erik is flustered and believes that this environment just isn’t for him; so he ventures off with the always animated (no pun) Ramon (voiced by Robin Williams) – who knows a thing or two about being different – and they end up hanging with another set of penguins on the other side of the glacier. This particular group worships, Sven (voiced by Hank Azaria), a presumed flying penguin. Erik becomes instantly enamored with Sven and gets inspired to adopt his philosophy.
Meanwhile, Mumble is hastily tracking down Erik, but comes across problem that affects everyone who lives on the glacial ice as it threatens the lively hood of Mumble’s people; leading to an assortment of ice-dwelling animals to come to the rescue.
One of the cleverest elements about this story – aside from the underlying environmental stance – is that it feels like an adventure, yet only takes place in 2-3 places. Besides the two penguin nations that reside on the ice caps, the story introduces a separate story line – ushering in the third location – featuring two Krill in Will (voiced by Brad Pitt) and Bill (voiced by Matt Damon). Will is anxious to break away from the normal Krill life and become a predator. His goal: shake-up the food chain and “eat something with a face.” Bill, his loyal and nervous friend, constantly tries to talk him out of this new lifestyle as they roam around in the depths of the arctic sea. But Will is determined and constantly puts his vulnerable self in harm’s way, as he attacks creatures a million times larger than him.
The Krill adventures brings in the perfect amount of comedy to balance out the cuteness and warming story going on with the penguins. If you can recall the moment in The Lion King when Mufasa saved Simba by giving his own life, that emotional discharge you had (or should have had, unless your Satan) is beautifully executed and projected in numerous sequences throughout this screenplay that encompasses a modest dramatic tone to it. Not only is the direction of each scene crafted with care, the dialogue really brings in a substantial moments that is often missing with animations lately. A lot of them are just show-and-go, with the goal of cheap entertainment. And that’s fine for some. However, when an animated flick can bring in every emotion and induce a wide-spectrum of reactions from the audience (there’s even a brief scare where you may jump a little), it’s a rarity to behold.
Plus, the 3D provides a nice scope for the fluid animated landscape. It almost feels like you’re on a visual ride at a theme park, as you’ll have the urge to continually explore the surroundings. And when factoring in the delivery method of the screenplay; which is filled with musical numbers, this feels like a major Broadway production in some respects that manages to keep every tone balanced and entertaining.
Overall, Happy Feet Two finds it rhythm early on and never misses a beat. The splendid animation along with thoughtful dialogue will have all audiences fully engaged in all the emotions this flick is conjuring up. Kids will learn something; adults will feel something; and everybody has a delightful movie going experience thanks to the flawless mechanics and intelligent storytelling.
RATING: 4.5 out of 5