That time when you show your kid appropriate, child-friendly films and then ten years later, he or she decides to dive into art house cinema and admits years after that “Hey Mom/Dad, some of the effects in Terry Malick’s The Tree of Life remind me of the marine life scenes in George Miller‘s Happy Feet 2!” and you shake your head in dismay because you have brought up a Philistine, spreading his mashed potato cultural knowledge into this God-forsaken world.
Yes, I’m stupid enough, comparing those movies not because of some overlapping aesthetics but also because they share the same themes. Childhood, resentment, self-reflection. Both films star Brad Pitt. Instead having a wife or eldest son to reach out to the universe beyond them, his character, Antarctic-residing Will the Krill does all the questioning. He’s resentful of being second to the bottom of the food chain, he’s frustrated by the limits of the swarm, he’s not your regular krill. And instead of stasis, he takes his questions to a further level and explores life outside the swarm. His intelligence is proactive instead of an introvert’s tendency to just contemplate. He decides to live with the motto of “I want to eat something that has a FACE!” which Pitt says with his comically Southern bravado. His friend Bill the Krill (Matt Damon) reluctantly joins him in his voyage.
And it’s with his adventurous eyes that we see this movie’s depiction of the lush marine life, the krill transparent, the jellyfish luminescent, the ice shards glinting. These scenes show the greatest use for the 3D medium, letting us go deep into what’s on the screen instead of it splashing on to us. I can imagine some of the younger members of the audience sympathizing with these krill, the discovery more magical because they’re so little and the world so large it envelopes them. It’s a bit scary but it’s also a lot of fun. Pitt and Damon play second-fiddle in an all-star voice cast,working as intermission acts to what’s happening to the larger land birds. But these scenes makes us almost forget that there’s another world above them, a world with the titular happy feet.
Over sea level, things are more inconsistent when in comes to tone. The movie actually begins with a crystal-like green iceberg, menacingly drifting from one section of the Antarctic coast going eastward to the Emperor penguin land, where Mumble (Elijah Wood) and the rest of his song-and-dance colony live. This movie is one of the few instances where I preferred a simpler arc from peace to a disequilibrium. I didn’t need the iceberg prologue. It was enough to see the penguins behaving erratically when their coastline – and therefore, their food supply – gets blocked. The second half of the movie containing these troubled scenes also involves penguins from other colonies/different species coming towards the crisis zone, most of these new characters leaving the scene because they’re found to be quite useless.
But what counts here are the characters, the movie’s saving grace. For some reason, Mumble and his wife Gloria’s (Pink) kid Erik (Ava Acres) do his own exploring where he inadvertently sees older penguins try to mate, the movie incorporating that adult subject into a universal theme of belonging that the young penguins yearn. As Mumble, Wood adds his eternal youthfulness, brave as a young father who’s perpetually learning and making unconventional friends along the way. Pink, replacing Brittany Murphy as Gloria is a more mature and altruistic presence in the colony, encouraging her family – and the young audience – to persevere in hard times. These characters teach kid-sized lessons but if that doesn’t satisfy you, at least it’s still a visual treat on the big screen.
- Happy Feet Two – review (guardian.co.uk)