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Happy Feet 2 3D Premiere review

REVIEWS - MOVIES

It's a musical Jim, but not as we know it...

Happy Feet 2 - starring Elijah Wood, Brat Pitt, Matt Damon, Pink - reviewed @ Shadowlocked...

Painfully beautiful...two simple words that sum up both the film's appeal and my viewing experience.

Confused? Allow me to explain. While other press attendees awoke to excited children - eager to experience the joys of Happy Feet 2 - I awoke to a hangover, and a painful one at that. Now, for anyone who's experienced a 3D movie recently - or is unfortunate enough to suffer from 3D headaches - you'll understand that it's hardly the most forgiving of formats, and Happy Feet 2 only made things worse.

And yet this is in no way a criticism of the film; in fact, it's sort of a back-handed compliment. At the risk of rocking many a boat - especially those aboard S.S. Avatar - I'd go as far as to say that HF2 is the most beautifully rendered 3D film of all time. Every snowflake; every blade of grass; every Krill - each, and all, are a credit to the film's overall production, adding a superior level of colour to this animated feast.

Unfortunately, others haven't been so kind towards this effervescent sequel, attacking everything from a perceived weaker story to a wasted pool of talent. But is this torrent of abuse deserved? Is Happy Feet 2 really that bad? Put simply...no.

You see, Happy Feet was something of an unexpected success, one that surprised both critics and audiences alike. After all, who would have expected a musical on Emperor Penguins to do so well; but therein lay its appeal.

With its strong cast, including the likes of Brittany Murphy (R.I.P.), Hugh Jackman and Elijah Wood, Happy Feet danced its way into the hearts of many, whilst capturing the true beauty of individuality. Mumble (Elijah Wood) was an out-cast, a threat to his species existence, and yet he stood for so much more than tradition. Like so many of Hollywood's unlikely heroes - such as Sylvester Stallone in Rocky, or Warwick Davis in Willow - Mumble succeeded despite his ill-begotten social stature. A common hero for the common man (and woman) - a trait common against post 9/11 cinema.

As ever, Robin Williams is brilliant as Ramon...As such, any sequel would need to be bigger, badder and bolder - building on a concept that had redefined both the concepts of star-studded animation and the musical genre - and, despite a few stumbling blocks, Happy Feet 2 has a real swing at this. It's true, the story is weaker than its predecessor, but the overall development makes up for this. But then again, how often does a sequel feature a better storyline than the original?

The story rejoins Mumble (Elijah Wood) as he experiences the joy - and challenges - of fatherhood. Unfortunately, his son Erik (interestingly voiced by Ava Acres) is a chip off the old ice-block, refusing to accept that his existence need revolve around singing and/or dancing, and decides to set out - much like his father before him - to seek out new experiences and tales. Like any good parent, Mumble goes after his son - who's joined by fellow youngling Atticus (Benjamin Flores Jr.) and everyone's favourite Ramon (Robin Williams) - catching up with him as they arrive at Ramon's home patch.

But things have changed. Ramon's Adelie brethren are no longer interested in collecting stones and appear to have a higher idol than the mighty Lovelace (Robin Williams once again)...enter Sven (Hank Azaria). With his foreign Swedish tones and elegant demeanour, Sven has hypnotised the community with his stories of afar; his valiant tales; but, most impressive, his ability to fly. Stumbling into his path, Erik voices his concerns to Sven, who encourages the little one to live his own life and to remember - "if you will it, it will be yours" - advice that Erik attains to Sven's aero abilities.

As the Emperor's return to their community however, their path - neigh, their existence - is rocked by what we know as global warming, entrapping their kind in an inescapable crater. As such, the colonies survival rests upon Mumble's efforts, and he must work with his fellow penguin - be they Emperor, Adelie or, in the case of Sven, fake - to help free his people...well, penguins.

It's an interesting take on the global warming epidemic - from the view of those affected - by a director known for his quirky and striking approach to such issues. Through Happy Feet 2 [George] Miller can draw attention to a worrying - and worsening - global issue, whilst providing enough entertainment throughout so as to appease the demand of a Hollywood garnered audience.

And yet we have barely scratched the surface of HF2's appeal. What Miller and Co do so well is to run a number of stories simultaneously, taking us through each and every emotion as we witness each tale unfold. Particular emphasis must be drawn towards the plight of two iconic Krill - yes, you heard me - voiced by Brad Pitt and Matt Damon (Will the Krill and Bill the Krill simultaneously). As Will realises the fragile nature of existence he sets off to re-establish himself, citing interests in "moving up the food chain" and living away from the swarm as his motivation. Bill (Damon), on the other hand, is content to remain as one of the masses; nothing lies past the swarm but danger and uncertainty. But Will is adamant - he is "one in a Krillion" - and the two soon find themselves travelling through unknown waters.

Put simply, their inclusion is sublime and a leading factor of my recommendation. Will's (Pitt) determination to eat "something with a face" takes both on an epic journey across land and sea, and provides much of the films subsequent humour. Furthermore, the characters are the epitome of their vocal counterparts - Pitt the adventurous rogue and Damon the coy sidekick - so kudos to their castings.

'Happy Feet 2' 3D premiere reviewBut what of the remaining cast? Well, as ever, Robin Williams is brilliant as both Lovelace and Ramon; moreso the latter. His comic timing and vast experience make him one of the films strongest assets, and his appeal further extends past that of the original.

Pink does a great job as Gloria (a role left empty following the untimely death of Brittany Murphy) Mumble's love interest from the original, providing powerful vocals throughout; and Hank Azaria grows on you as Sven. At first the accent seemed incorrect - unsuited to such an important role - but as Sven's character unravels so does his tone, allowing for greater audience understanding of Sven's past.

And so we arrive at the films main appeal - its stunning visuals. 3D films have been criticised in recent years for their darker - and some suggest duller - appearance when compared against their 2D counterparts, with many blaming a lack of technology and the complicated nature of their filming for their monotonous tones. However, Happy Feet 2 perfectly dispels this ideal.

It's clear, crisp appearance and striking realism more than make up for its weaker plot, adding depth and a further emotive level. After all, 3D's main appeal is, ultimately, its realism; and what's realer than raw emotion? With this in mind, HF2 flourishes - from Erik's misplaced anger and Ramon's loneliness to Mumble's pride towards his son and Sven's forced isolation - each emotion is accentuated via its 3D translation. While the films score helps to set the tone of each scene, the 3D helps to bring it to life, and isn't that what 3D should do?

Of course, like any sequel, Happy Feet 2 isn't without problems. As mentioned, the storyline is weak at best. Sure, the issue of global warming is an important one, but important enough to set a full 103 minute sequel...I don't think so.

Worse still is a certain song selection about halfway through. As Mumble (Wood) struggles valiantly to win his sons affection, Erik is somewhat unconvinced; that is, until he witnesses the selfless courage of his father to preserve all life, regardless of race or species. So, when Mumble is threatened by a gang of Elephant seals - despite saving the life of their Alpha - Erik suddenly bursts into a powerful operatic chorus; a classical defence of his father. Now, that's all well and good, but the song just doesn't suit the film's otherwise upbeat tone. Don't get me wrong, it's beautifully arranged and powerful throughout, but I found it more erroneous than enjoyable.

And yet, despite these stumbling blocks, Happy Feet 2 has once again surpassed my expectations. In a market saturated with laborious animation and over-milked franchises (I'm looking at you Shrek), Happy Feet 2 stands tall; the shining beacon of originality.

But what of the negative reviews web-wide you ask? Well, why not do this - instead of judging the film on its failings, why not praise it for achievements? Instead of concerning yourself with its "...nosily incoherent narrative", how about simply enjoying its outrageous nature, beautifully choreographed dance scenes and jaw-dropping cast strength?

Happy Feet 2 remains the most visually appealing film I have ever witnessed, and its encapsulating nature is sure to guarantee enjoyment...of some form...for the whole family. Now, if that's not enough, remember that Brad Pitt and Matt Damon play Krill...Krill, people. Do you really want to be the one person who, in years to come, looks back and says "Damn...I really wish I'd seen Pitt and Damon playing planktonic crustaceans"? Exactly.

4 stars

See also:

Kung Fu Panda 2 - 3D review


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