When the original "Happy Feet" was released in 2006, I immediately proclaimed it the best animated feature of the year, which it went on to become. In fact I was the first to proclaim it the best while many were still tossing accolades at Pixar's "Cars".


The original "Happy Feet" had all the elements that make animated features fun. It had terrific animation; who can forget how imposing the elephant seals looked! It had a lot of humor, singing, dancing, and a nifty environmental message. Warner Bros very cleverly made sure the film crossed cultural barriers by including Latino and urban Afrocentric nuances.


"Happy Feet" went on to happily earn $384 million globally and $198 million domestically. Though that wasn't as much as "Cars", it was easily enough to make the studio give writer/director George Miller a call back. Keep in mind that unlike John Lasseter ("Cars"), Andrew Stanton ("Wall-E"), Stephen J. Anderson ("Winnie the Pooh"), Tom McGrath ("Madagascar"), Carlos Saldanha ("Ice Age") and most other big animation directors, Miller had no animation experience before "Babe: Pig in the City", his previous animation. So to beat out animation specialists in the animation field is amazing.

At best, "Happy Feet" would have been a tough act to follow. So to make this fair I will compare the effort for "Happy Feet 2" to it's only competitor. Namely, "Cars 2" which makes this an equitable race, as it were. And there, it wins hands down. Whereas "Cars 2" was easily the worst film Pixar has ever churned out, "Happy Feet 2" doesn't miss excellence by much.


So let's start with who and what are different from the original. Warner Bros decided to follow the rest of the movie industry and milk the 3D cash cow, so most screenings are in 3D and $3-4 more. Pink (Alecia Moore) replaced the late Brittany Murphy as the voice of Gloria and you can tell. Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman are out; Brad Pitt and Matt Damon are in. Common replaced Fat Joe as Seymour and you really don't notice.


What remains the same is the off-the-hook animation with fabulous attention to detail. Also, it continues to teach the various critters one might find in Antarctica as well as the effects of the changing climate. So children are learning something whether they want to or not.


Unlike the original however, "Happy Feet 2" leans more toward the serious side from beginning to end though it doesn't harp on human impact as much as the original.

Mumbles (Elijah Wood) is grown and married to Gloria (Pink) with their own little penguin - Erik (Ava Acres). Like Mumbles when he was a young penguin, Erik has personality issues. But it isn't clear until near the end what his problem really is. One thing is for sure... he can't dance.


But hat's okay, because now just about the entire Empire Penguin colony dances while Noah the Elder (Hugh Weaving) harks words of wisdom from his perch on high.


Ramon (Robin Williams), one of the Marconi penguins who has been living with the Emperors has decided to move back to the Marconi colony. Erik, feeling like an outcast decides to join him without Mumbles knowledge. Erik's two friends Atticus(Benjamin Flores) and another young penguin come along to watch his back.


When they arrive at the Marconi colony, they meet, of course, Lovelace (also Robin Williams). He is no longer the grand wise one as he has turned that duty over to the Mighty Sven (Hank Azaria) who is a penguin with a most unusual skill... he can fly!

Well, we all know penguins can't fly, yet Sven does. He takes to Erik and assures him that he too will learn his talent. (Erick takes that as being able to fly.)


Mumbles catches up to them and takes them home. But on the way home they encounter Bryan the Beachmaster (Richard Carter) an enormous Elephant Seal whose life Mumbles saves. He will come in handy later in the film.


Because when Mumbles and the children return home, they find out that a huge glacier has shifted and blocked the emperor penguin colony into a dead in ravine. Somehow, Mumbles must save them.


A side story has two krill Will and Bill (Brad Pitt and Matt Damon) breaking away from their swarm just minutes before a whale comes along and eats the swarm. they learn the awful truth... they are at the bottom of the food chain. Will decides to change his lot in life and become a predator! Hilarious!


To that end, the krill were, by far, the funniest characters. They will remind you of Sebastian from "The Little Mermaid" or Crusty from "The Incredible Mr. Limpet". Then of course, the Latin lover Ramon and the 3 amigos come in a close second as he pursues his true love - Carmen (Sofia Vergara). The animation is detailed to a tee. To the point you can see the individual ice crystals. And, the elephant seals are still imposing.


Children in the audience laughed and giggled and the adults tapped their toes again... myself included; that's what "Happy Feet" is all about after all. Yet Pink doesn't come across as well with her song Bridge of Light, not like Brittany Murphy's covers for Boogie Wonderland and Somebody to Love in the original. But that's okay.


"Happy Feet 2" is a suitable follow-up to the original keeping with the formula of music+humor+nature=entertaining film.   -- GEOFF BURTON