'Happy Feet Two' Lacks Satisfying Story

It's hard to resist dancing penguins, but Happy Feet Two makes you want to try. It features tens of thousands of Antarctic types toe-tapping their way across the screen, but it doesn't have a clear idea of what else it wants them to do.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And it is always fun to be in the audience for Susan's cranberry relish sequels. Kenneth Turan says there's a sequel opening in theaters today that's not as much fun as the first. Five years ago "Happy Feet" won the Oscar for best animated feature. Now the penguins are back.

KENNETH TURAN: It's hard to resist dancing penguins, but "Happy Feet Two" makes you want to try. It features tens of thousands of Antarctic types toe-tapping their way across the screen, but it doesn't have a clear idea of what else it wants them to do. Returning is Mumble, voiced by Elijah Wood, the misunderstood emperor penguin who danced when all the others sang. Now he's a father himself and has to deal with a tiny son who has self-expression problems similar to his dad's.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "HAPPY FEET TWO")

ELIJAH WOOD: (as Mumble) Hello guy. You okay?

AVA ACRES: (as Erik) Mm-hmm.

WOOD: (as Mumble) You're not joining the party?

ACRES: (as Erik) Uh-uh.

WOOD: (as Mumble) Can you say why?

ACRES: (as Erik) Why?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WOOD: (as Mumble) No. No. What I mean is why...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (as character) Oh, Uncle Mumble, I think he's asking why not.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (as character) Like he just found a reason, don't you, Erik?

ACRES: (as Erik) Yeah.

TURAN: Mumble's son runs away from home and dad has to bring him back. But when they return to the colony, everything has changed. All the penguins have been cut off from the rest of the world by a wall of solid ice. Lots of attempts are made to free everyone, to little effect. "Happy Feet Two" jolts along from one episode to the next in a random haphazard way.

The introduction of Will and Bill, a pair of krill, is typical. These tiny crustaceans attempt to become predators, with results that are lamentable. Even casting Brad Pitt and Matt Damon in the roles doesn't help. Still there is fun to be had in this film, like following the adventures of Sven, who seems to be that rare penguin who knows how to fly. Voiced by the irrepressible Hank Azaria, Sven is this film's most inspired creation. He's a self-help guru who actually believes the things he says.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "HAPPY FEET TWO")

HANK AZARIA: (as Sven) You must learn to think like Sven.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Why?

AZARIA: (as Sven) If you want it, you must feel it.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (as characters) If you will it, it will be yours.

AZARIA: (as Sven) Thank you. All rights reserved and copyright me.

TURAN: "Happy Feet Two" also retains the original's eclectic taste in soundtrack.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) I don't care what the people say.

WOOD: (as Mumble) Yeah. You'll get the hang of it.

TURAN: Watching all those penguins dance does remain fun, and the film's expansive 3-D look creates dizzying Antarctic vistas. But dazzling panoramas, no matter how impressive, don't compensate for the unsatisfying story "Happy Feet Two" is stuck with.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times.

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