Reel Critics: 'Happy Feet' dances back into theaters

George Miller is no stranger to first-class animated films featuring talking animals. He directed the revered classic "Babe," which was nominated for Best Picture. He also directed the first "Happy Feet" movie, replacing talking pigs, dogs and sheep from "Babe" with talking penguins to great comic success.

"Happy Feet Two" continues the penguin's progress with awesome animation. The special effects are riveting to watch for kids and parents alike. This time around, the whole penguin nation gets trapped when climate warming creates an icy prison for them in the Antarctic wilderness.

A host of talking birds, elephant seals and tiny krill get involved in the ensuing efforts to save the penguins. Along the way, they engage in several extravagant Busby Berkeley style musical numbers. Thousands of animals dance to frenetic rap and hip-hop songs with an occasional ballad thrown in. The rapid-fire events keep the goofy energy moving along at a fast clip.

The whole enterprise is a long way removed from the gentle humor of "Babe." This movie may be too long and too complex for younger kids. But the fast-paced antics and family friendly vibe should deliver for its target audience.


'Melancholia' a life-affirming, but downer film

"Melancholia" represents a state of being and a fictional hidden planet, both of which are capable of destroying lives.

Danish director Lars von Trier has crafted a film of lush, heartbreaking, achingly slow beauty. Like this year's meditative "Tree of Life," you will be either captivated or bored silly. But do take note of the superb cast's acting, especially Kirsten Dunst's amazing performance.

Chapter I is about Justine (Dunst), a radiant bride at her lavish reception thrown by sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her "filthy rich" husband (Kiefer Sutherland).

The festivities reveal the seriousness of Justine's struggle with depression, and her unraveling is painful and jarring (especially with von Trier's camera work).

In Chapter II, the focus is on Claire, the older, sensible sister who becomes unglued at the possibility of planet Melancholia colliding with Earth.

Justine has morphed into the calmer, less fearful of the two. Has her deep sadness left her so empty she welcomes the end of the world? Poor Claire is now in the throes of restless, debilitating uncertainty.

"Melancholia" is a real downer of a way to kick off the holiday season and not to everyone's taste. But as apocalypse movies go, it's oddly life-affirming to see it all end not with a bang, but with a hopeful smile and a swirl of rapturous classical music.

JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator.

SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a company in Irvine.

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