Happy Feet Two is to 2006's Happy Feet what Babe: Pig in the City was to Babe, a clever film remade with most of the charm wrung out of it.
The conceit — that penguins each have their own special song which they use to woo members of the opposite sex, save for one penguin (voiced by Elijah Wood) who can't sing a lick, but who can dance — is pretty much abandoned for a muddled sequel about trapped penguins and inter-species cooperation, all in the name of "adapt or die."
Yeah, global warming is still a subtext (over-fishing no longer is). But now responsibility passes to the critters if they want to survive.
The songs are weaker — classic rock exchanged for generic pop, first-generation hip hop and moldy oldies. The laughs are fewer, most of those coming from the randy Adelie penguin, Ramon, voiced with a broad Latin accent by Robin Williams. It plays like a cynical attempt to cash in by throwing a lot of half-baked ideas and far more characters at an elite animation team and expecting them to produce Toy Story 2. They didn't.
Mumble (Elijah Wood) and Gloria (now voiced by Alecia "Pink" Moore instead of the late Brittany Murphy) are parents, but their little Erik (Ava Acres) doesn't seem to be a chip off anybody's old ice block. He can't dance, can't sing. So he scampers off with his pals and falls in with the Adelie penguins in Adelieland. They're led by "the first penguin to learn to fly." Sven (Hank Azaria, slinging a broad Norwegian accent) is a self-help guru and a fraud. He can fly, all right. He's a Puffin passing himself off as a penguin.
"If you want it, you must will it. If you will it, it will be yours," he preaches. It's prosperity gospel meets Tony Robbins. Of course penguins can learn to fly.
That "adapt or die" mantra has been taken up by Will the Krill, voiced by Brad Pitt in a funny but almost utterly unrelated story. Will and his longtime companion Bill (Matt Damon) make scores of Krill and Will rhymes and puns — "I'm one in a krillian."
Up on the ice, the Emperor Penguins are land-locked by an iceberg, and Mumble must figure out a way to free them while Erik is expects his puffin false-prophet to save the day.
The animation and color palette are a pretty big leap forward from Happy Feet's images, though the penguin faces are as inexpressive as ever.
Which can also be said of filmmaker George Miller, who went from making Mad Max sequels to making children's films and their sequels. Entertaining and teaching kids is a noble pursuit, but half-hearted sequels aren't a happy consequence of that. They're just an excuse to sell toys and Happy Meals.