Typically, I don’t see children’s films. I can watch Adam Sandler and Tyler Perry movies all year long with few lasting scars, but I don’t have the patience for family flicks. (God bless Agent Bedhead, who normally covers them. I have no idea how she musters the energy to sit through one after another after another). In the limited experience I have with kid’s films outside of the Pixar universe, I find them to be insufferably selfish: They try to hard to please adults without giving concern to the target audience, and I feel like if you’re going to make a movie for children then make a goddamn movie for children. not a movie that panders to adults with lame pop culture references that either go over the child’s head or, worse, that the parent has to attempt to explain during the course of the film. It’s one thing if you can work them seamlessly into the plot, as Pixar does, and as the first two Shrek movies managed, but, more often than not, we take our children — and I’m speaking of those under the age of 10 — to the movies for their sake, not ours. We’re going to suffer whether you play a shitty 90’s pop song or not, so you may as well make it as enjoyable for the kids as possible.
It’d also be nice if studios were thoughtful about their audience, as well. Happy Feet Two is certainly more palatable than the original one (which was decent, if not heavy handed with an environmental message that went over most kids’ heads, although the foreboding tone did not). However, there was a “Sylvester and Tweety” short before Happy Feet Two that was exceedingly violent, and while I’m all about exposing my kid to the horror classics at an appropriate age, four years old is not that age. To a young child, there’s not a huge difference between real violence and cartoon violence; in the end, someone still gets their guts filleted, and most kids have more sympathy for a cartoon cat than a real person anyway, so it’s even more unsettling. I understand that 50 percent of America’s four years old are already desensitized to onscreen violence, but those of us who haven’t exposed our preschoolers to the Final Destination series already chose Happy Feet instead of Sociopath Cat and Sadistic Bird exactly because we didn’t want them to grow up to serial killers
That is to say: If you decide to take your younger children to see Happy Feet Two, go in late. After the “Sylvester and Tweety” short and after the trailers for half a dozen other films you plan to keep your children away from because you’re a decent goddamn parent. (Please excuse the tone; when it comes to parenting, I’m a humorless prude, particularly where entertainment options are concerned. I know firsthand what early exposure to sex and violence can do to a child, and growing up to be a two-bit online movie critic will not pay my goddamn nursing home bills.)
And how was the film? The three kids I saw it with — 4, 7, and 9 — liked it well enough (the parents were mostly bored, but again, who gives a shit about the parents where a movie targeted at children is concerned?) What this movie had over the original — and the big crowd-pleaser — was a B-plot concerning two krill, voiced by Brad Pitt and Matt Damon. They were both fantastic, easily the highlight of the films for both the parents and the kids. The rest of it? Robin Williams was grating (and not particularly memorable), the A-plot languished, the musical numbers were lackluster (save for the rousing “Under Pressure” finale), and the supporting characters weren’t very engaging with the exception of Sven, a puffin voiced by Hank Azaria who was a big hit with the kids. The great thing about kids, however, is that — at the end of it — they don’t remember the dull parts. Mostly, they remember the highlights (or the scary parts). So, if you want to take your kids to see Happy Feet Two, the reviews you’re likely to trust the most come from other kids, so I’ve collected three below, from my son and the two girls of friends of mine who came along. As you can see, though they were a minor part of the film, the krill were scene stealing highlights (I will note, too, that the brilliant 7 and 9-year-old girls typed their reviews themselves):
“The krill live in the Antarctic, and I know that krills live in the Antarctic because penguins live in the Antarctic because Momma told me that. Polar bears live in the Arctic. The krill were funny. A lot funny. The krill had little claws just like the lobsters. I liked that the puffin almost ate the krill, but he got away. I liked the penguins singing. I learned that if we’re scared, we just (*dance motion*) to scare the thing away. That’s important. I like the elephant seals because they helped the penguins. I like this Happy Feet better than the other Happy Feet because there are krills in it. Nothing for me in Happy Feet was scary.
I didn’t like the cat and the bird [The “Sylvester and Tweety” short] because the cat tried to get the bird and eat it. I didn’t like that because the bird didn’t want to be eaten. I thought the cat was scary.
Can we do a list of things I like and don’t like about Winnie the Pooh now?”
— D, 4 years old
“I liked the part when the krill danced his feet on the ice to break it at the end. The elephant seal acted differently in this movie from the first movie. I liked when the krill was singing a song. It was really funny.”
— E, 7 years old
I liked when the krill did the final push to get the penguins free. I also liked the krill in general. I liked the krill named Will and Bill. Eric the baby penguin was very funny when he sung to the elephant seals.”
— L, 9 years old
So, yes: Happy Feet Two is moderately entertaining for kids, harmless (except for the short in the beginning), and the krill played by Brad Pitt and Matt Damon owned this film. It’s recommended for children four through ten, but if you can manage it, coerce someone else’s parents to take them.