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HAPPY FEET TWO (2011) (**)

If George Miller's original dancing and singing penguins film has a happy surprise than its sequel is the opposite — nothing about it is surprising. The story borrows a little from the original and attaches it to a familiar family/action plot. The first incorporated popular songs into the fabric of its world and the characters, while the songs here are uninspired, obvious or just not that good. Not even two krill that sound a lot like Brad Pitt and Matt Damon can save the day.

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If George Miller's original dancing and singing penguins film has a happy surprise than its sequel is the opposite — nothing about it is surprising. The story borrows a little from the original and attaches it to a familiar family/action plot. The first incorporated popular songs into the fabric of its world and the characters, while the songs here are uninspired, obvious or just not that good. Not even two krill that sound a lot like Brad Pitt and Matt Damon can save the day.

Now Mumble (Elijah Wood, LORD OF THE RINGS) is a famed hero in the community and dance it embraced by all the penguins. However his son Erik (Ava Acres) doesn't have the same dance prowess as his dad so he feels like an outcast (much like his dad did in the original because he couldn't sing). Erik ends up following Ramon (Robin Williams, GOOD WILL HUNTING) back to his penguin colony where a strange big-billed "penguin" named Sven (Hank Azaria, THE SMURFS) has become an idol because he can fly. He tells Erik that whatever he wishes will come true, so to the chagrin of Mumbles, Erik believes that he can just wish his way into flying.

As Mumble is out in search of the runaway Erik, a huge piece of a glacier breaks off and traps his colony in their cove. Upon their return, Mumbles must find a way to help his people. Along the way there will be ice collapses, near misses with Erik hanging over ledges, a skua attack and a run in with an elephant seal named Bryan (Richard Carter, RABBIT-PROOF FENCE) who refuses to back up. Parallelling this story is the one of krill Will (Pitt) and Bill (Damon). The comic pairing is delightful as Will decides he wants to leave the swarm and become a predator. You have to evolve to survive he says. Bill doesn't like to rock the boat, but he is too good of a friend to leave Will out their in the big ocean all alone.

The opening dance sequence is a medley of songs that cloys with adjusted lyrics to fit cute baby-voiced penguins. I felt I was drowning in syrup when the baby chicks started singing "I'm bringing fluffy back" as a fowl riff on Justin Timberlake's "SexyBack." The late Brittany Murphy, who was fabulous in the first film, has been replaced by Pink as Mumble's love Gloria. She isn't given much in the form of a part or songs. Her one big ballad is nothing close to a showstopper or even an icebreaker. Even the dance theme is stretched to fit into the plot. How dance saved the day in the original was inspired, the second time around it feels desperate.

The plot isn't just in search of Erik, but a purpose. All the themes don't mesh. The outsider theme fizzles out before the end, while it never really connects with the themes o f fathers and sons and community. The latter two themes are choreographed using those Arthur Murray footprints on the floor, resulting in the audience knowing the steps before they come. I so often complain that poop jokes are a sign that a film is struggling for laughs. And trust me it doesn't make it any funnier when bird poop drips in 3-D.

HAPPY FEET TWO reminds me of what happened to the SHREK franchise. The spark that made the original special is replaced with comfortable family-friendly sitcom material. Mumble's confrontation with his society that hinted on conflicts of religion has been replaced with soft worries that his son will idolize a flying penguin more than him. The larger ecology message is a mere backdrop comparatively. The sequel is a simple family drama set against a large obstacle that doesn't really pose much of an immediate threat. The timeline really doesn't put the trapped penguins in any ALIVE situations, if you know what I mean. The original had a hip vibrant vibe, while this one is about as cool as a kid singing opera.

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Rick DeMott
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