Happy Feet 2

Image_square_webby Susan

2011, (voices of) Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, Pink, Hank Azaria plus other well-known actors. Directed by George Miller.

What is it about penguins that make them so lovable? I mean, really? So the whole “waddling around like a fat butler in a tuxedo” is pretty cute, but beyond that… Penguins don’t have the regal aura that swans do, they live in some of the most inhospitable climates in the world, they can’t fly, they are actually rather silly looking. Still, we’ve been fascinated with them as sweet, adorable cartoon characters for decades. I present Chilly Willy (1953) and Tennessee Tuxedo (1963) as Exhibits A and B, respectively. (If you are too young to remember either of them, Google it like I did.)

Whatever it is that attracts us to penguins, the original Happy Feet movie ramped it up another order of magnitude with its beautiful story of Mumble, the penguin who couldn’t sing like the others and was ridiculed for his incredible dancing abilities. A misunderstood outsider, he was shunned. After a series of coming-of-age adventures, Mumble eventually embraced his uniqueness and saved the colony from starvation, winning their respect and admiration. Of course he also won the heart of the most beautiful girl penguin, and they settled down as soulmates to live happily ever after.

One of the best things about the first Happy Feet movie was the fantastic music and – if possible – it’s even better in the second one. This time around Mumble and Gloria have joined the ranks of parent penguins and are raising their little chick Eric who has fewer problems fitting in than Mumble did, but still needs to find confidence in his own uniqueness. Other favorite characters from the first movie are back as well. It just wouldn’t be nearly as good without Ramon, voiced by Robin Williams. There are also a couple of new characters, Will and Bill the krill, voiced by Matt Damon and Brad Pitt who deliver some hilarious action and commentary on the plight of those near the bottom of the food chain. There is even a one-of-a-kind penguin who may not be all that he claims to be. When disaster befalls the penguin colony, it is up to Mumble and some of the chicks to seek help with a large-scale rescue. Once again, they learn that survival depends on everyone working together.

Both of the Happy Feet movies are beautifully animated with spectacular music and great environmental lessons for everyone. The delicate ecosystem that is our planet can’t help but react to major shifts and changes. When those shifts and changes are driven by humankind’s interference with the natural order of things, there are unforeseen consequences impacting various habitats with a ripple effect that may come back to bite us. The only way to correct the problem is to put aside differences and work cooperatively. I can’t think of a better way to teach children about love, sacrifice, determination, respect for uniqueness, and care for the environment than through such a fun and entertaining film.

Cartoon characters have come a long, long way from the likes of Chilly Willy and Tennessee Tuxedo. They were cute and funny, fine for children, but they just didn’t have the depth and dimension of personality that we want in our characters on the big screen. The Happy Feet movies are right up there in scope and accomplishment with Toy Story, How to Train Your Dragon, Ratatouille, The Lion King, and any number of movies with compelling characters and great stories that just happen to be animated. Hopefully we won’t have such a long wait for Happy Feet Three.

Three boxes of popcornRating: Triple Serving plus an ice cream sandwich

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Moneyball

by CosmicTwin3

2011 Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Phillip Seymour Hoffman

“It’s hard not to get romantic about baseball,” says Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) in this latest sports movie. Really? What’s so romantic about baseball? From my perspective, having enjoyed my fair share of T-ball and Little League seasons, it’s a fairly slow-paced, usually long game that inspires grown men to spout obscure statistics and get practically misty-eyed talking about legendary players. Isn’t it a kids’ game that grown-ups have turned into a multi-billion dollar business? Well… sort of, but maybe it’s also more than that.

Inspired by the book about the real Billy Beane and actual events in 2002-2003, Moneyball tells the story of how one team’s General Manager (the GM for those who are more familiar with professional sports than I am) changed the game of baseball forever by ignoring conventional wisdom about how to choose players to assemble a winning Major League Baseball team. The problem, apparently, has to do with the ability to afford players with the right combinations of certain outstanding skills.  A team such as the Oakland A’s, with a meager budget for player salaries, has practically no hope of competing with a lavishly funded team such as the New York Yankees. Rich teams dominate every season and go to the World Series year after year. Hence the entire title of the book by Michael Lewis: Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game.

In order to level the playing field, so to speak, someone, somehow must start to figure out how to put together a winning team on a tiny budget. Billy Beane stumbles upon fresh-faced, recent Yale graduate Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) with a degree in economics and a deep abiding love of baseball who seems to have the magic formula for just such a predicament. With Peter’s help and computer whiz-kid number crunching abilities, Billy starts acquiring players in a way that antagonizes more than one or two long-time A’s talent scouts, not to mention the team’s coach (Phillip Seymour Hoffman in a supporting role).

Will this new method of team-building prove to be the right course, or will Billy be ridiculed out of a job? An added dimension to an already intriguing story is that Billy Beane gave up a full scholarship to Stanford University to play baseball in the Major Leagues. Recruited for his good looks and amazing abilities to hit, throw, run, and whatever else is required to be a baseball superstar, no one can adequately explain why Billy’s career as a professional player never really took off. Still craving the “wins,” Billy as a GM is still devoted to the game and probably has a unique insight into why Peter’s team-building choices could really work.

I’ve seen many sports-themed movies over the years, many about baseball: Mr. Baseball, The Natural, Angels in the Outfield, Eight Men Out, Bull Durham, Major League, The Rookie, and A League of Their Own, to name a few. I remember enjoying Field of Dreams, but not quite understanding the mysticism of it. Some of the better “sports-as-metaphor” non-baseball movies that I’ve enjoyed include The Mighty Ducks, Miracle, Remember the Titans, Bend it Like Beckham, Invictus, The Blind Side, etc. Moneyball is as good as any of these.

I’m not especially keen on any movie just because it involves sports, but I do like really good movies. Moneyball is a really good movie. It forgoes the mysticism of why baseball matters so much to so many fans and gives insight into what it’s really like to be a professional player and how the business side of the game takes a toll on the mind as well as the body. Surprisingly, perhaps, this film deftly gets to the heart of the matter by putting emotions front and center in a story about a subject that is dominated by statistics. At the very least, I’m starting to understand why some people find it “hard not to get romantic about baseball.” Hill was superb as the baseball-loving genius computer geek and (forgive me for using another sports metaphor here, but it actually is appropriate) Pitt hit it out of the park in his performance as athlete turned GM searching for a way to achieve the ultimate goal: winning the last game of the season.

Cosmic Twins Popcorn Rating: Full Bucket