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Happy Feet Two

(2011) ** 1/2 Pg
100 min. Warner Brothers. Director: George Miller. Cast: Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, Hank Azaria, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Hugo Weaving, Common, Sofia Vergara.

/content/films/4252/1.jpgIf you’ve ever wanted to see Brad Pitt and Matt Damon play life partners, now’s your chance: hustle on down to the multiplex to see Happy Feet Two. Okay, so they do so in the form of two krill traveling through Antarctic waters in the company of a giant swarm of invertebrates, but their double act is no less amusing as the obviously committed friends offer each other moral support and sing swatches of pop tunes. And this should come as no surprise to viewers of the 2006 movie Happy Feet, which, like its sequel, has for its director George Miller (“Mad Max”) and features movie stars singing mashups as the voices of animated critters (not my favorite trend in animated film, but whaddaya gonna do?).

Elijah Wood returns as the voice of Mumble, now a penguin dad fretting over the direction of his son Erik (Ava Acres). Erik fears he has two left not-so-happy feet, but he excitedly latches onto an impossible dream of flight. An airborne puffin named The Mighty Sven (Hank Azaria) passes as a penguin, causing the confusion, but more intimidating problems face “the Penguin Nation” in the form of a dangerously shifting landscape (due to climate change) and how best to get the attention of passing humans (depicted mostly in live action).

One of the main attractions here, at least for kids, is Robin Williams, reprising his double role of Mumble's Argentinian buddy Ramón and jumbo-sized penguin preacher Lovelace. Mumble’s mate Gloria is in the picture (with Pink subbing in for the late Brittany Murphy), while new girl Carmen (voiced by Sofía Vergara of TV’s Modern Family) rubs noses with Ramón. Again supplying behind-the-scenes oomph are top choreographers, including Savion Glover.

For the Happy Feet franchise is all about celebrating dance, anticipating Glee’s similar (and, for some, similarly annoying) celebration of popular song. Songs ranging from “Papa–Oom-Mow-Mow” to a Puccini aria play important roles, but it’s mostly about the tapping penguin claws and hip-hop-popping flippers, as waves of computer-generated penguins boogie for the delight of young audiences against a photo-real Antarctic backdrop.
Adults who venture here will wonder if Miller has “lost the plot,” since the somewhat redundant, narratively sluggish Happy Feet Two doesn’t really have one. Instead, it has what feels like dozens of micro-storylines, including the journey of Will the Krill (Pitt) and Bill the Krill (Damon), all dovetailing in an extended climax before being tied in a bow.

So why do these penguins dance? One theory goes that “it’s a momentary relief from the existential terrors of existence,” while another puts it more simply: “It brings out my happy.” For kids facing a potentially rough adulthood, it’s probably a message worth hearing, maybe more than once.

[This review first appeared in Palo Alto Weekly.]

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Aspect ratios: 2.35:1

Number of discs: 2

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 3/13/2012

Distributor: Warner Home Video

Warner's Blu-ray + DVD + Ultraviolet Digital Copy combo pack of Happy Feet Two gives the film a perfectly dazzling hi-def presentation. Razor-sharp digital imagery betrays no digital artifacting, but rather features deep black level, brilliant color, and perfectly calibrated contrast, with astonishing texture revealing each bit of fur in minute detail. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track discretely separates each sound effect in a complex Antarctic soundscape capturing each toe-tap, vehicular groan, and crack of the ice in ear-teasing clarity. Music gets full-bodied love, as well, and dialogue gets properly prioritized.

Designed to work with iDevices, the Happy Feet Two Movie App Second Screen (58:11, HD) feature enables synced-up kid-friendly content for an hour's worth of the film, including games and sing or dance-alongs.

"Helping Penguins and Pals" (11:52, HD) provides some nature-film context for the feature, specifically looking at how Antarctic penguins survive and, hopefully, thrive in their environment and amongst predators.

Also here are the self-explanatory "How to Draw a Penguin" (4:59, HD) and "Running with Boadicea" (3:10, HD), which analyzes the movement of one character.

"The Amazing Voices of Happy Feet Two" (4:51, HD) quickly runs down the voice cast, giving us a glimpse into the recording studio.

Arguably the most exciting bonus is "I Tawt I Taw A Puddy Tat" (3:49, HD), a new Looney Tunes animated short starring Tweety and Sylvester.

A Music section comprises the mini-featurette "P!nk's New Song" (1:56, HD) and a few sing-alongs: "The Mighty Sven" (3:15, HD), "Bridge of Light" (3:24, HD) and "Papa Oom Mow Mow" (1:14, HD).

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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