Late in the animated sequel Happy Feet Two, a penguin chick named Erik (Ava Acres) bursts into operatic voice at a moment when hope seems dim. "Nothing makes sense in this world," belts out young Erik. "It's all a big pile of crazy!" And that, friends, is about as pithy a summation as one could hope for.
I suppose it's my own fault for wanting animated features to move beyond a decade of variations on "be true to yourself" themes mixed with random pop-culture gags. The original 2006 Happy Feet was a step in that direction. It also incorporated live-action actors to surreal effect, and presented a hard-to-miss allegory for tolerance of "alternative lifestyles" that inspired outrage from the likes of Glenn Beck and Michael Medved. Happy Feet Two is, in its way, distinct from the great mass of contemporary animated fare, yet it's also far too frantic and muddled.
The emperor penguin colony from the first film has been changed after coming to terms with the dancing oddball Mumble (Elijah Wood) and embracing dancing to accompany their singing ways. But it's still a hard world for those who are a little different, including Erik, who happens to be the son of Mumble and Gloria (pop singer Pink, replacing the late Brittany Murphy). When Erik runs away with two friends, Mumble heads off to find them, just before a calving chunk of Antarctic ice leads to a catastrophe.
Happy Feet Two finds a way to bring Mumble's old traveling companion Ramon (Robin Williams) back into the story. Director George Miller and his screenwriting team also introduce a flying "penguin" named Sven (Hank Azaria), a surly elephant seal named Bryan (Richard Carter) and a pair of krill named Will (Brad Pitt) and Bill (Matt Damon).
In fairness to Miller, it's somewhat admirable that he refuses to play it safe. He once again brings real humans into his CGI world and unapologetically aims for a message about how even the smallest individual can play a role in fending off the effects of potential disasters like climate change.
But it's tough to cut Happy Feet Two too much slack, because the thing is a colossal mess. There's no focus, as Miller bounces between big musical production numbers and high-energy chases, frequently interrupted by awkward attempts at comic relief.
I can honestly say that the experience of watching this movie won't vanish into an innocuous puff of "so, that happened," as with so many other cookie-cutter cartoons. But nothing in Happy Feet Two coheres in a meaningful way. It's all a big pile of crazy, with no one scooping up after it.