In the 2006 animated blockbuster Happy Feet an alienated emperor penguin named Mumbles found empowerment through tap-dancing and in so doing managed to both attract a mate and stop the overfishing that imperiled his Antarctic habitat. Directed by George Mitchell – the same George Mitchell who gave us the post-apocalyptic Mad Max trilogy and the almost despairingly bleak Babe: Pig in the City – Happy Feet paired its broadly conventional narrative with a darker sensibility not often seen in talking-animal fare.
The film’s sequel Happy Feet Two finds Mitchell (co-directing with Gary Eck) both more jovial and more easily distracted. The story begins straightforwardly enough with Mumbles (Elijah Wood) now grown-up and by all appearances well-adjusted ceding the mantle of self-discovery to his son Erik (Ava Acres). Boogie fever has swept the once dance-averse penguin nation but in a cruelly ironic twist Erik has inherited none of his father’s nifty moves. But just as Happy Feet Two appears intent on recycling its predecessor’s basic storyline the film abruptly changes course and embarks on a series of detours that seemed geared more as fodder for throwaway gags and showy set pieces than anything else. The disparate narrative elements while enjoyable in isolation never quite coalesce into a meaningful whole leaving us entertained but unfulfilled.
As before Happy Feet Two features a variety of buoyant song-and-dance numbers with Alecia Moore (aka P!nk) lending her formidable pipes to spirited re-workings of “Rhythm Nation” and “Under Pressure ” among others. Robin Williams returns for double duty as both Ramon a diminutive oversexed Latin lover and Lovelace a fiery Southern-preacher type. (Lovelace later adopts a Rastafarian dialect allowing Williams to achieve the rare culture-caricature trifecta.) His voracious scenery-devouring is all the more impressive given the grandeur of the scenery. Not to be left out of the quasi-Vaudevillian comic shenanigans Hank Azaria lays on a thick Scandinavian shtick as Sven a charismatic Arctic émigré who presents himself as the only penguin in the world who can fly. Azaria is a hoot but the film’s best moments come courtesy of the cast’s highest-profile additions Matt Damon and Brad Pitt voicing Bill and Will (respectively) two tiny krill in search of meaning at the bottom of the food chain.
In Barrow Alaska there comes a time each winter when sunlight fades out and darkness rolls in like an unwelcome visitor—for a month. Many people abandon the small town without hesitation while those who stay brace themselves for a storm of inhumane relentless frigidity and a test of sanity. But this year one group keeps the town warm—with blood—for its 30 days of night. The town’s two remaining law enforcers Eben (Josh Hartnett) and Stella (Melissa George) are forewarned by a strange drifter (Ben Foster) that “something’s comin’ ” but before they can even finish scoffing the sun has set and the vampires have descended or ascended upon Barrow for blood and recruitment. With only himself and Stella to keep the few living well alive Eben is forced to go on the defensive for the full 30 days. But as he soon learns these vamps are a smart breed with a perpetual case of the munchies. Just when you think Josh Hartnett has finally chosen the right role to suit his dark features and limited range—he decides not to play a vampire. Still 30 Days' constant darkness and overall chaos would seem to accentuate his positives by drowning out his negatives much the way Sin City spun and sold his small role but that’s not quite so. It turns out he’s capable of the quickie action or momentary drama but the scenes in which he is to save the er night—well it’s a good thing the Hartnett-as-Superman rumor was just that. As Hartnett’s partner in non-crime/estranged lover George (Turistas) manages to create some tension without resorting to shrieking or the drama-school histrionics we’ve come to expect from supporting actresses in horrors. Also successful is the ever-versatile Ray Winstone (The Departed) playing a grizzly outsider-turned-insider who joins the anti-vampire crusade. In a role surprisingly tiny considering his current rate of ascension in the industry Foster (3:10 to Yuma) is the best and creepiest this movie has to offer. And in the vampire corner is Danny Huston (The Number 23) who is horrifying as hell on first look only to de-emphasize that appearance by crowing and chatting instead of simply chugging blood. On the first day of night the vampires will seem scary; by the 30th day they’ll seem more like zombies—unless that’s just you projecting onto them. Director David Slade whose previous feature (the indie Hard Candy) could not have been more different from this one will initially win over horror-philes with 30 Days. After all it starts off on a high note with an almost apocalyptic aura to the impending darkness and its consequences. The story is set up adequately and the scares to come are alluded to without getting too greedy. And Slade doesn’t let us down immediately following sundown with jolting flashes of the beasts readying to overtake the small town. But once he gives them faces and personalities it doesn’t take long for the suspense to die—and die some more. That’s almost midway in after which point it becomes clear that the movie will consist only of a heavily abridged countdown to that 30th night and predictable bloodshed. As Slade nears the film’s climax 30 Days nears videogame-like music and machismo before its slightly more compelling conclusion is reached. On a brighter note the lightless Alaskan town—although obviously not totally pitch black for the movie’s sake—does look positively bleak especially when the cinematography takes to the skies.