Happy Feet Two
If country legend Tammy Wynette had been a small, flightless bird in Antarctica, she might have begun her most famous hit this way: "Sometimes it's hard to be a penguin."
Indeed, it was hard for Mumble, who in 2006's Happy Feet struggled to find his place as the sole tap-dancing member of a flock of soul-singing emperor penguins.
Fast-forward one generation, and Mumble's young song, Erik, is also having a hard time with dancing. Literally. His little feet aren't very happy, it seems. And he's struggling to buy his dad's clumsy attempts to reassure him that someday he'll find a way to express everything he's feeling inside, whether through dancing, singing or … something else.
Nursing his awkward angst, Erik and two young friends, Atticus and Bo, set off on a spontaneous walk. They reconnect with Mumble's old buddy, Ramon, and arrive at the Antarctic home of another group of penguins, the Adélies. By now, of course, Erik and his friends are a long way from their home.
Mumble and his mate, Gloria, soon realize that their son and his friends are missing. And so Mumble shuffles off to find them. After all, how far could they have gone? More importantly, what could possibly go wrong in the time it takes Mumble to track them down?
Most days in the Antarctic, maybe not much. But today isn't most days. Today a massive (green) iceberg calves off and slams into the emperor penguins' bay—utterly trapping them there.
Their rescue, of course, depends on Mumble, Erik and Co. And in this case, said company includes Ramon's Adélie kin, a massive elephant seal, a pair of tiny krill … and a flying penguin with a Swedish accent.
It won't be easy—for any of them. Then again, nobody ever said being a penguin was easy, least of all Tammy Wynette.
Mumble, of course, knows exactly what it feels like not to fit in. And he desperately wants to help Erik understand that someday he'll find his voice and his unique contribution to the world. Erik can't hear that message from his dad—but he can hear it from Sven, a remarkable flying bird who's taken up residence with the Adélies.
Once it's clear that a calamity has befallen the emperors, Mumble leads the rescue effort. He enlists the help of the Adélies, who bring the trapped penguins fish. He saves the life of an elephant seal named Bryan the Beachmaster (who's gotten trapped in an icy crevasse). Bryan pledges to pay back the favor. But when Mumble asks Bryan and his fellow seals to help with the rescue, Bryan's very reluctant to do so. Only then does Erik find his voice, singing a poignant song that convinces the seals to get involved. In his song, Erik sings about how his father has inspired him to keep striving to make a difference, even if the odds seem impossible.
Speaking of singing, another poignant scene involves Gloria (now voiced by P!nk) belts out encouragement to her son. "Just when you think all hope is lost," she sings, "And giving up is all you've got/ … You'll find your heart." In a separate scene, Gloria tries to help Mumble see that he's a good dad who loves his son, even if Erik seems to reject him.
A subplot involves two krill (tiny, shrimp-like creatures that travel in what the movie calls a "swarm" that's millions strong) named Will and Bill. Will's on a quest to find the meaning of life, but along the way the pair also plays a part in saving the trapped penguins. And that underscores the film's message that one individual—even something as small as a krill or a young penguin—can make a huge difference.
Unlike every other member of his krill swarm, Will is driven to find some greater purpose, the "truth" about his existence. And so he launches out on a quest to find meaning—a quest that's largely (and jokingly) framed in evolutionary terms. At one point, he tells his sidekick, "We've got to evolve, Bill." And for Will, evolution involves wanting to become a carnivore (after he witnesses other fish feeding on the swarm). He talks about natural selection and finding "a momentary relief from the existential terrors of existence."
Another pseudo-spiritual storyline involves Sven. The flying "penguin" is welcomed by the Adélies with something approaching messianic fervor. They hang on every word he says, and Sven responds by pumping out sermonesque sayings about the power of positive thinking. "If you want it," he tells young Erik, "you must will it. If you will it, it will be yours." Erik internalizes that message, maybe too much, mistakenly believing his purpose in life is to learn to fly.
On the flip(per) side of things, we see that Sven, Erik and others' commitment to positive thinking does help them overcome obstacles the old-fashioned way, through grit and creativity.
Bill apparently harbors a same-sex attraction to his best friend, Will. After leaving the millions-strong swarm, Bill, who the Boston Phoenix calls a "latently gay krill," talks about his longing for children. Then he suggests that he and Will could "start a little swarm of our own." Will immediately counters, "We're both males!" Bill then suggests adopting. As the conversation continues, Bill pleads for Will to "have me as a partner. I'm a heck of a wingman!" Cue Bill singing Wham!'s "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" and Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up." Will eventually tells Bill that he can stay with him. "But no hanky panky," he warns. The arrangement doesn't last long. When the pair is startled by something, Bill jumps on Will's back. Will says it's time for them to part ways.
When Ramon first begins courting a diva-like Adélie named Carmen, she mocks him: "I'd never have an egg with you. You're too short. Too gross." Ramon, however, is undeterred in his passionate pursuit of Carmen, calling himself a "maverick" who "cannot be tamed." He also comments about the "mating call" of the female Adélie. We hear other conversations about penguins having eggs together, too. And Sven drives adoring female Adélies wild as he flies over them.
When Sven brings Gloria fish to eat, sensual music plays as their beaks touch suggestively. (Gloria doesn't reciprocate his interest.) Another song is a penguinized version of Justin Timberlake's "Sexy Back." Instead of singing "Get your sexy on," the birds sing, "Get your fluffy on."
Quantities of visible peril are interlaced with talk about the possibility that all of the emperor penguins will die. The circle of life is on full display as whales eat krill; krill try—humorously—to eat leopard seals; leopard seals try to eat penguins; penguins try to avoid being eaten by flocks of skuas.
Bryan takes a nasty plunge into an ice shaft, bouncing jarringly off the walls as he goes. And speaking of bouncing off the walls, desperate penguins form an ice ramp to try to fly out of the great hole they're trapped in. It doesn't work, but lots of them keep trying, repeatedly crashing into an ice wall and falling to the ground.
Crude or Profane Language
The word fluff stands in for that other f-word when Bryan growls, "Take your little fur ball and fluff off." Mumble calls a leopard seal a "kelp sucker." Other name-calling includes "fluffy butt," "idiot" and "doofus." We hear the 1958 Western classic (and theme to the similarly named TV show) "Rawhide." It includes the line, "H‑‑‑bent for leather." Somebody says "holy mother of krill."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Early on, Erik embarrasses himself by falling headfirst into a crack in the ice and getting stuck. As he frantically tries to wriggle out, we see him urinate—much like a scared puppy might do. Everyone laughs, while his father tries (unsuccessfully) to calm him down after he's extricated. A skua defecates on a penguin's face. When Will tries to take a tiny bite out of a very large leopard seal, Bill tells him, "You just nibbled on its butt." And "butt" jokes turn up elsewhere as well.
Sven eventually confesses to a major deception he says he's perpetrated because he was lonely and desperately seeking a sense of significance, even if it meant posing as something he wasn't.
Conclusion No. 1: This is a cuddly kids' sequel full of penguins, seals and … krill. It's crammed with heartwarming elements about the importance of love, acceptance, determination, teamwork and fatherhood. It's not nearly as crass as 90% of the stuff some kids hear on the radio while riding to school these days. It's not nearly as violent as the Animal Planet channel on cable.
Conclusion No. 2: As the final credits rolled in the advance public screening I attended, a woman behind me gushed, "That was so cute!" But I didn't turn around and smile. And here's why: I was feeling significant frustration over the movie's occasional content problems and its not-so-occasional worldview. Lots of kids are sure to be begging to see this thing. Do they really need to absorb the idea that female penguins are obsessed with the egg-making potential of prospective mates? Will parents really want them running around the house afterwards yelling at their siblings to "fluff off"? And even if allusions like those sail over their heads, they'll certainly be giggling at the poop and pee gags. The sometimes realistic-looking violence may hit home in other ways.
But that was just my first layer of frustration. Dig a bit deeper, and Happy Feet Two is also an up-to the-minute parable reflecting secular society's rapidly solidifying convictions about environmentalism, evolution and homosexuality. Those subjects aren't all on the same moral footing, of course, and the environmental message here isn't as heavy-handed as it was in the first film. But repeated references to evolution and a couple of krills' bromance-plus aren't necessarily what I'd call cute.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Voices of Elijah Wood as Mumble; Ava Acres as Erik; Robin Williams as Ramon and Lovelace; Alecia Moore (P!nk) as Gloria; Meibh Campbell as Boadicia; Benjamin "Lil P-Nut" Flores Jr. as Atticus; Hank Azaria as The Mighty Sven; Brad Pitt as Will the Krill; Matt Damon as Bill the Krill; Sofía Vergara as Carmen; Hugo Weaving as Noah the Elder; Common as Seymour; Anthony LaPaglia as the Alpha Skua; Richard Carter as Bryan the Beachmaster
November 18, 2011
March 13, 2012