The chum of its parts
With the voices of Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, Pink, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon; Written by Warren Coleman, Gary Eck, Paul Livingston, George Miller; Directed by George Miller; Rated PG (for some rude humor and mild peril). 100 minutes.
When one looks at the animated features released so far this year, two stand out: “Rango” and “Puss In Boots.” The reason they stand out is before they even got to the animation, the films were about their scripts. There was a strong plot and there were engaging characters. We actually cared about how the story would turn out.
HAPPY FEET TWO is perfectly adequate family fare for the holiday season, but it’s very much a second-tier cartoon movie. A lot of effort was put into it, but the emphasis wasn’t on the script. The result is a movie on the order of the “Ice Age” series. It may make money and will certainly keep the kids happy, but it’s not the sort of movie that Pixar and, often, DreamWorks Animation produce on a regular basis.
Mumble (voice of Elijah Wood) is a penguin who no longer has to dream about dancing to his own beat. Instead, he has to deal with his son, Erik (Ava Acres), who wants to fly. That’s because an odd penguin – who turns out to be a puffin – has convinced Erik that penguins can take to the air. Eventually, the film settles on its central crisis. Most of the penguin population is trapped in a pit surrounded by ice with no way out. Will they starve? Will humans or other creatures being able to help them, or will predators start picking them off? Since this is a children’s movie, there’s not much need to guess how it will end.
Beyond a plot that is simply marking time before the inevitable conclusion, the characters are little more than set-ups for the jokes. Thus Ramon (Robin Williams with a Latino accent) throws himself at another penguin who is the love of his life. Two krill are upset that they’re at the bottom of the food chain and break off to seek adventure. There are amusing lines, but little in the way of characterization that would make us care about any of them. Indeed, viewers may be startled to learn that Will and Bill, the two krill, are voices by Matt Damon and Brad Pitt.
Those who most enjoy the film will presumably appreciate the animation. There’s no question that computer animation has come a long way, and even second-tier companies can now outdo an early Pixar movie like “Toy Story” (1995) in terms of technique. Yet impressive as an ice field covered with penguins might be, if we’re noticing the effects rather than being drawn into the situation, something’s not working.
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.