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HAPPY FEET TWO: King of the ensemble film

Folks, we’ve got a number of ensemble films out at the moment – big casts with big names. One, J.C. Chandor’s MARGIN CALL, a first feature that attracted some of the biggest names in Hollywood, surprised even the most cynical of cinephiles. That’s a no-no in most industry circles, the prevailing wisdom being, “a new director just can’t attract the talent.” Go J.C. Chandor! Bring us back to the 90s! Other ensembles recently in theatres include TOWER HEIST and…HAPPY FEET TWO, which I would argue is the most ensemble-y of them all.

What does it even mean to be an ensemble film? According to IFP’s Gotham Awards, handed out in NYC last Sunday night, not much. Apparently any old film can be an ensemble! Check out this list of nominees for “Best Ensemble Film”: BEGINNERS (the winner, by the way), THE DESCENDANTS, MARGIN CALL, MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE and TAKE SHELTER. Huh? Except for MARGIN CALL, none of these are ensemble films. Forgive me here, but I thought ensemble implied a group of performers – not one or two leads – occupying nearly equal screen time, thus framing the narrative differently from stories featuring the primary plight of one individual.

Which is what makes HAPPY FEET TWO such a good fit. Man, is this ever an ensemble! We’ve got Robin Williams, Elijah Wood, Pink, Common, Hank Azaria, Anthony LaPaglia, a bevy of lesser-known but not lesser-talented actors, and, oh yeah, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon. Indeed, the story features a small penguin’s quest to belong, but multiple storylines run feverishly through this epic: a threatened homeland, a rivalry amongst species and a quest to evolve upward from the bottom of the food chain (that’s Pitt and Damon as krill, the shrimp-like invertebrates currently found in your Omega-3 vitamin). Sprinkle in multiple dance numbers with hundreds of animated penguins and we have ourselves a bonafide ensemble.

–AH