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.
Walt Disney animation’s first foray into 3D ‘toon making isn’t just a technical triumph it thankfully also tells the clever story of Bolt (John Travolta). He’s a superstar TV canine who believes the superpowers he displays weekly on his series are for real --especially when it comes to the protection of his master and co-star Penny (Miley Cyrus). One day however the dog is accidentally shipped from his Hollywood soundstage to New York City. Lost alone and confused on the streets of the Big Apple Bolt is still living the show vowing to get to Penny who he believes has been kidnapped by the “green-eyed man.” And so he embarks on a cross-country journey to L.A. to save Penny. Along the way he is joined by an abandoned wily housecat Mittens (Susie Essman) and a TV-loving hamster Rhino (Mark Walton) who believes everything he sees on the tube is ALSO real. Of course Bolt is in for rude awakening when he finds out he is just a regular dog but he still needs to get to Penny -- even if it means she might not be there for him when he returns. Disney is not a studio that generally depends on superstar voices for their animated films but in casting Travolta and tween queen Cyrus they have scored a bullseye. Travolta’s Bolt is a delightful cross between the self-assured superstar and a pooch in denial. The actor doesn’t phone it in but instead creates an original and loveable dog that stands proudly in Disney’s large canon of canine greats. The action scenes created for Bolt’s TV series are lots of fun and the interactions with his traveling companions are choice. As Penny Cyrus is sympathetic sincere and she even gets to sing a duet with Travolta “I Thought I Lost You ” which she co-wrote. The show is nearly stolen though by comedian Susie Essman (Curb Your Enthusiasm) as Mittens -- a smart determined and emotionally wounded pet cat abandoned by her owners and forced to wander the streets alone. And by Mark Walton as the hilarious Rhino the obsessive fanboy hamster who rolls around in his ball. Walton is actually an animator in real life who happened to be so good at voicing Rhino during tests they just gave him the job. Disney vets Chris Williams and Byron Howard capably usher the venerable Disney label into the brave new world of 3D animation and the results are promising -- putting the audience right in the center of Bolt’s universe. The TV series action set pieces are particularly effective in using the technology. It’s not even necessary to see the film in 3D because the whole CG process has come a long way in a few short years and Bolt is one of the best looking most accomplished animated films in memory -- glasses or no glasses. Williams and Howard expertly blend humor pathos and blockbuster-style action scenes effortlessly giving “Bolt” an appeal beyond just the target kid demo.
On the one hand it’s a comedy. We meet Sarah Huttinger (Jennifer Aniston) a thirtysomething knee deep in a pre-midlife crisis with a way too patient fiancé (Mark Ruffalo) and a nowhere job. Her anxiety is only exacerbated when she visits her picture perfect family in Pasadena CA a place she’s never felt like she belonged especially after her mother died. But then it gets weirder when Sarah finds out her family was the inspiration for The Graduate. It seems Sarah’s grandmother (Shirley MacLaine) was the Mrs. Robinson and that her mother ran off with the same guy briefly right before she got married to Sarah’s dad. Sarah becomes obsessed with finding this “other” guy Beau Burroughs (Kevin Costner) believing he might be the key. He’s a key all right--to a night of drunken lust. But none of this is going to solve Sarah’s problems now is it? She’s got to find her own answers in her heart. Excuse me while I go throw up. Maybe Jennifer Aniston should just write this year off. Not only did she lose a husband to another woman she also hasn’t made very smart choices in her career. Derailed completely missed the track and now this comedy is no better suited to her talents. Aniston is much better playing sweet and quirky rather than messy and neurotic and honestly shines brighter when co-starring with strong comedic talents such as Ben Stiller (Along Came Polly) or Jim Carrey (Bruce Almighty). (That’s why we’re holding our breath for her next film The Break Up with [real-life boyfriend?] Vince Vaughn.) Shirley MacLaine making a habit out of being the best thing in an otherwise dull movie (In Her Shoes anyone?) is a hoot as grandma. Costner doesn’t look anything like Dustin Hoffman thank goodness but has zero chemistry with Aniston. And who knows what the hell Ruffalo is doing wasting his talents doing this romantic comedy crap. Just say no Mark. As a director Rob Reiner hasn’t had much luck lately either. This is the first movie he’s directed since 2003’s Alex & Emma--and we all remember what a success that was. To be fair Reiner apparently took over the reins from screenwriter Ted Griffin (Matchstick Men) who was making his feature film debut ten days into production and changed things quite a bit. That’s not surprising because Rumor quite simply lacks direction. It wants desperately to be a comedy with a hint of relationship drama but somehow misses the mark on both. Now the idea of a Graduate update is somewhat intriguing. Reminds me of Robert Altman’s The Player in which The Graduate’s original screenwriter Buck Henry pitches a sequel of sorts to a studio development exec. It’s meant to be a joke of course but somewhere in the spoof there might’ve been a sliver of mad brilliance. Too bad Rumor ruins it.
Maybe they should call Carlos Santana "King of the World." Just a few months after his veritable sweep of the Grammy Awards, Santana took three trophies, including the record of the year award for "Corazon Espinado," his duet with Mexican rock band Mana, at the newfangled Latin Grammys on Wednesday night in Los Angeles.
"It feels like the first kiss," Santana said after winning. "It feels very natural and divine and human." The guitar god extraordinaire dedicated his awards to Africa, the women of the world, bilingual education and Nelson Mandela.
It was a star-studded event, as they say. Heavyweights such as Jennifer Lopez, Christina Aguilera and 'N Sync were among those trolling down the red carpet, and Ricky Martin opened the ceremony by performing a tribute to the late Tito Puente. The show was hosted by Lopez, Gloria Estefan, Andy Garcia and Jimmy Smits.
The evening's other winners included crooner Luis Miguel (three awards), Shakira (two awards) and Marc Anthony (song of the year).
Here's a complete list of the winners:
Record of the year: "Corazon Espinado," Santana featuring Mana
Album of the Year: "Amarte Es Un Placer," Luis Miguel
Song of the year: "Dimelo (I Need To Know)," Marc Anthony, Robert Blades, Angie Chirino and Cory Rooney (Marc Anthony)
New artist: Ibrahim Ferrer
Male pop vocal performance: "Tu Mirada," Luis Miguel
Female pop vocal performance: "Ojos Asi," Shakira
Pop performance by a duo or group with vocal: "Se Me Olvido Otra Vez," Mana
Pop instrumental performance: "El Farol," Santana
Pop album: Amarte Es Un Placer, Luis Miguel
Rock performance by a duo or group with vocal: "Corazon Espinado," Santana featuring Mana
Male rock vocal performance: "Al Lado Del Camino," Fito Paez
Female rock vocal performance: "Octavo Dia," Shakira
Rock song: "Al Lado Del Camino," Fito Paez (Fito Paez)
Rock album: Reves/Yo Soy, Cafe Tacuba
Salsa performance: "Celia Cruz and Friends: A Night Of Salsa," Celia Cruz
Merengue performance: "Ni Es Lo Mismo Ni Es Igual," Juan Luis Guerra y 440
Ranchero performance: "Mi Verdad," Alejandro Fernandez
Traditional tropical performance: "Mambo Birdland," Tito Puente
Tropical song: "El Niagara En Bicicleta," Juan Luis Guerra (Juan Luis Guerra y 440)
Banda performance: "Lo Mejor De Mi Vida," Banda El Recodo
Grupero performance: "En La Madrugada Se Fue," Los Temerarios
Tejano performance: "Por Eso Te Amo," Los Palominos
Norteno performance: "Herencia De Familia," Los Tigres Del Norte
Folk album: Misa Criolla, Mercedes Sosa
Tango album: Postales Del Alma, Juan Carlos Baglietto & Lito Vitale
Flamenco album: Paris 87, Camaron Con Tomatito
Latin jazz album (two winners): Spain, Michel Camilo & Tomatito; Tropicana Nights, Paquito D'Rivera
Brazilian contemporary pop album: Crooner, Milton Nascimento
Brazilian rock album: Acustico0--MTV, Os Paralamas Do Sucesso
Samba/pagode album: Zeca Pagodinho Ao Vivo, Zeca Pagodinho
MPB (musica popular brasileira) album: Livro, Caetano Veloso
Sertaneja album: Sergio Reis E Convidados, Sergio Reis
Brazilian roots/regional album: Pixinguinha, Paulo Moura e os Batutas
Brazilian song: "Acelerou," Djavan (Djavan)
Latin children's album: A Mis Ninos De 30 Anos, Miliki
Classical album: La Dolores -- Tomas Breton, Tito Beltran, Placido Domingo, Manuel Lanza, Antoni Ros Marba, Elisabete Matos
Engineered album: Ni Es Lo Mismo Ni Es Igual
Producer of the year: Emilio Estefan Jr.
Music video: "No Me Dejes De Querer," Gloria Estefan
Photos courtesy of Frank Micelotta/ImageDirect and Livecast Inc.