It’s hard to resist dancing penguins, but “Happy Feet Two” may make you want to try. Though it features tens of thousands of Antarctic types toe-tapping their way across the screen, it doesn’t have a clear idea of what else it wants them to do.
George Miller returns to direct and co-write the sequel to “Happy Feet,” but the clean, focused story line of a penguin born to dance that won the first film the best animated feature Oscar in 2006 has not found its equal here.
Instead “Happy Feet Two” hopes the things it does well — like making all those penguins dance with as much precision as the Rockettes — will encourage audiences to overlook how random and haphazard its narrative is, the way it jolts along from one episode to the next without providing anything that convincingly ties the pieces together.
Perhaps sensing that this randomness is a problem, “Happy Feet Two” begins with a mission statement that sounds suspiciously like an apology for a lack of focus: “Everything in this world, no matter how big, no matter how small, is connected in ways we never expect.”
Returning to the sequel from the first film is Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood), the misunderstood penguin who danced when all the others sang. Now he and mate Gloria (Alecia Moore, otherwise known as Pink) are parents themselves, and Mumble has to deal with Erik (Ava Acres), a tiny son who has self-expression problems similar to his dad’s.
Back as well is Ramon (Robin Williams), the amorously inclined Adélie penguin who has been spending time with Mumble and his fellow emperors. Fed up with his romantic prospects, he decides to return home, unaware that Erik and two pals are going to tag along for the ride.
Things back home, however, are not the way Ramon left them. Yes, the wacky, sweater-wearing Lovelace (Williams again) is still around, but the animal in charge is now a certain Sven, who by all appearances is that rare penguin who knows how to fly.
As voiced by the irrepressible Hank Azaria, Sven is this film’s most inspired creation. He’s a self-help guru who actually believes himself when he says things like, “If you want it, you must will it. If you will it, it will be yours.” But as entertaining as Sven is, the film’s plot hasn’t come up with a character arc for him that is effective all the way through to the end.
If Sven is largely a success, the same can’t be said about the other additions to the film’s cast, a pair of krill named Will and Bill. Tired of being at the bottom of the food chain, these tiny bug-eyed crustaceans get delusions of grandeur and attempt to become predators, with results that are lamentable rather than amusing. Even casting Brad Pitt and Matt Damon in the roles doesn’t help.
“Happy Feet Two’s” main story strand has Mumble, who has left emperor land to retrieve his son, return only to find that the entire emperor colony has been cut off from the rest of the world by a wall of solid ice. The remainder of the film is taken up by various attempts to set everyone free, a rather repetitive endeavor.
But even though “Happy Feet Two” is not the sequel of your dreams, it has more than Sven to offer as entertainment. For one thing, the franchise’s eclectic taste in soundtrack music remains intact and includes such diverse items as TV’s “Rawhide” theme, the Queen/David Bowie “Under Pressure,” early rock gem “Papa Oom Mow Mow” and a penguin version of a beloved classic from Puccini’s “Tosca.”
Watching all those penguins dance does remain fun as well, and the film’s expansive 3-D look creates dizzying Antarctic vistas, often filled with penguins spread out as far as the eye can see. But dazzling panoramas, no matter how impressive, are no substitute for the involving story “Happy Feet Two” has had to do without.