HAPPY FEET 2 (Rated PG for some scenes of possible peril): Let me see if I can plot it out; it's the densest animated feature with more zippy editing & subplots I've ever seen in under two hours:
We're back to Antarctica where Aussie director George Miller left us in the first "Happy Feet" movie, as he & co-writers Gary Eck, Warren Coleman & Paul Livingston combine (or conflict) in updating the lives of our penguin friends. Mumble (voice of Elijah Wood), the first critter with happy feet, is now a parent - separated from his wife Gloria (Aleci Moore) when she & thousands of furry kin have become trapped in an icy sink hole (a result of global warming, perhaps) - while he & his offspring, Erik (a pip-squeaky Ava Acres) are on safer ice, wondering how they can possibly save the trapped Gloria & Adelie colony across a great divide.
Erik is unlike his tapping father; he can't dance. He can sing along with the myriads of varieties & quantities of others of his ilk, but, uh-uh, no can dance - a great tragedy in this otherwise loving father/son relationship. And while they plot to save the trapped colony on a large scale operation, little Erik must go on an internal journey to find himself in relation to his universe - thus an expansion of his journey from childhood into LIFE - witnessing his environment as it pertains to his inner self. Wooh, deep!
Erik and his two pals are abetted in their trek by observing goings on around him, among the regionally varied critters, from his Black brothers with their heavily Southern accents & jigs to helpful elephant seals - Erik, always searching for a male role model other than his immediate parent. (It takes much of the film for him to find that his dad, after all, has the right stuff.)
Then there's Sven (Hank Azaria), actually no penguin, but (except for his toucan-like, stapled beak) a flying look-alike that tries to fool the Adelie colony into thinking they, too, could fly. And the Latino Ramon (Robin Willams), ever failing in his attempts to woo the ladies. (Williams also voices another amusing character, the charismatic Rockhopper.)
Meanwhile, another major subplot's going on - among the brilliantly orange krills (shrimp-like crustaceans) are a pair, Will & Bill (Brad Pitt, Matt Damon) who seem to represent us ordinary humans at the bottom of the food chain who strive to climb, only to find that even those at the bottom can stomp their feet. This duo supplies most of the smart lines & the comic element as they mix adventure with philosophical self-discovery (a direct parallel to Erik's sobering life journey).
Meanwhile, from the opening musical number to the finale, we get wildly joyous singing & dancing that connects us to the original title - oh, and with the strangely touching inclusion of Erik's heart-rending aria from a well-known Italian opera, backed by a stunning Northern Lights display, that cinches the survival of the pack.
And, oh, those visuals! Incredulously realistic yet startlingly CGI created, they dominate, not only bringing the critters alive as they solve their life-threatening problems, but doing so in life-like action - from solo close-ups to long shots of the trapped masses amid brilliantly created locations - from winter blizzards to underwater fairylands to the entire solar system floating in bright bubbles (yes, bubbles).
And all through this are those feisty flightless birds, tapping their webbed feet, moving their tail feathers, as they break into rambunctious song in this overly diverse, sometimes confusingly unexplained, Down Under story of self-discovery. (Grade: B)