Considering his refusal to compromise — evident as much in dystopian road-rage fantasies like “Mad Max” as in wondrous children’s fables like “Babe: Pig in the City” and the original “Happy Feet” — George Miller’s return to Antarctica, for another dance with Mumble the toe-tapping penguin (Elijah Wood), should have been cause for a celebratory jig.
Sad to say, then, that “Happy Feet Two” is a triumph only in the most superficial sense. The snow-swept landscapes, like the penguins and elephant seals who call them home, are presented with an admirable attention to detail, even without the requisite 3-D effects.
As an exercise in style, it’s a beauty, sure to dazzle the kids who will seek out “Feet”-inspired toys and video games this Christmas.
Those same kids, the youngest at least, will probably appreciate the movie’s cloying reliance on Top 40 hits (among them, Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation,” LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out” and Queen’s “We Are the Champions”) to pass the time.
In the 2006 original, the song-and-dance numbers seemed like threads crucial to a much larger fabric; here, they come off as pandering intrusions.
Between musical offerings, a story unfolds around Mumble’s mission to prove himself a worthy father by gently nurturing son Erik’s missing self-esteem. New to the mix, and entirely superfluous: two krill, voiced by Brad Pitt and Matt Damon, whose quest to break away from the swarm speaks vaguely to the importance of individualism.
Largely absent from the proceedings is the plea for environmental awareness that made the first “Feet” a thoughtful revelation. This time, Miller centers the drama on glacial shifts that isolate Mumble from his beloved Gloria (Pink, replacing the late Brittany Murphy) and cut off an entire penguin population from the fish they need to survive.
It’s a disaster, no doubt, but the stakes never seem high enough. While the original laid blame squarely on the human interlopers whose devastation of Mumble’s habitat endangered him and all his cuddly friends, “Happy Feet Two” identifies a less compelling scapegoat: roving icebergs, a byproduct of global warming, which merely inspire the penguins to dance more vigorously.
That should be enough to impress fans wanting nothing more than a grand spectacle, who will cheer Miller’s sequel for its visual artistry and “Glee”-like dependence on pop staples.
Otherwise, the movie’s scattershot narrative will seem an interminable bore, slipping and sliding toward a conclusion too easily foreseen.
Starring Voices of Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, Hank Azaria, Pink, Common, Brad Pitt
Written by George Miller, Warren Coleman, Gary Eck, Paul Livingston
Directed by George Miller
Running time 1 hour 47 minutes