Home Animation Happy Feet Two – Director George Miller on recording the cast together

Happy Feet Two – Director George Miller on recording the cast together

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Happy Feet Two - Magda Szubanski
Happy Feet Two - Miss Viola (voiced by Magda Szubanski) © 2011 Warner Bros

Producer/writer/director George Miller won the Academy award in 2007 for Best Animated Feature Film for Happy Feet, which featured the voice talents of Elijah Wood and Robin Williams.

Miller made his directorial debut on the smash hit Mad Max, which he also co-wrote. His other movie credits include Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Babe, The Witches of Eastwick, Dead Calm and Lorenzo’s Oil.

Writing and helming Happy Feet Two, Miller has once again assembled an all-star voice cast, bringing back Robin Williams and Elijah Wood, along with Hank Azaria, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Common, who recorded their scenes together, which is practically unheard of for animation.

What was it like to bring this cast together and have them actually work together?

Happy Feet Two - Director George Miller
Director George Miller, during the making © 2011 Warner Bros

That was thrilling to me. It’s such a privilege to see guys like that working together. It was just a wonderful thing. One of the memorable moments for me was when Hank had to do a serious scene, where Sven (the Puffin) was basically confessing about himself. Everyone had finished their parts and it was just Hank by himself.

Then, suddenly, Robin and Elijah, and others who had gone out for a coffee break, came back into the room and stood in front of Hank, without any mics, and just played a crowd. I was just choked up. I thought, ‘God, this is generosity.’

Everyone thinks movie stars are so narcissistic and self-absorbed, but it’s totally the opposite. Their generosity is huge.

Why was it important to include the global warming message in the film, and what do you want audiences to take away from this?

Happy Feet Two - Robin Williams
Ramon (center, voiced by Robin Williams) © 2011 Warner Bros

You can’t tell the story about this world without it being about the environment. It’s the extremes of the planet. These massive icebergs are breaking off in the size of small countries, and they do block off the penguins. There is melting on the peninsula, so the penguins are going south. The species are getting more mixed up. That’s what we tried to indicate in the movie.

For me, the guiding premise of the film is the notion that, despite our differences, we can overcome the chaos of the world. All the characters in the film, in some way, are divided. Every single character is torn apart, and it’s only when they come together that finally they can solve the problem.

They can’t even rely on the humans that arrive because they have to save themselves. The time I’m most proud of being a human being is when I see the coming together of people to solve their problems, or to endure the human adventure. All of that’s in the film.

Your animated films are great, but why haven’t you done any live-action films for awhile?

Happy Feet Two - Hank Azaria
The Mighty Sven (center, voiced by Hank Azaria) © 2011 Warner Bros

John Lennon said, ‘Life’s what happens when you make other plans.’ Films keep on coming out of my head, and I never know what film I’m going to make next. Common and I were going to work on a Justice League movie together. He was cast as Green Lantern.

It was almost greenlit, and then it fell away. I fell in love with the guy and called him up and said, ‘You can’t play the Green Lantern, but how about playing a penguin?’

I was also due to do Happy Feet. These things are like big super-tankers, to start a pipeline like this, with over 600 or 700 people working on the film with the bleeding-edge of technology, where you’re pushing technology as far as you can. We had to commit to that, so I went on to that.

I was about to do the next Mad Max film, Fury Road. We were all geared up for that, to shoot in the Australian desert, and then unprecedented rains came. What was the wasteland – completely flat, red earth – is now a flower garden. And the big, massive salt flats, where they do world record speed trials, is now full of pelicans and fish.

Happy Feet Two - Benjamin “Lil P-Nut” Flores Jr and Ava Acres
Atticus (voiced by Benjamin “Lil P-Nut” Flores Jr) and Erik (voiced by Ava Acres) © 2011 Warner Bro

Where the fish came from, I have no idea. So, we’ve lost the wasteland. Luckily, all of these films have been with Warner Bros., so it’s been a very collaborative thing, going from one to the other.

Will Mad Max ever happen?

Theoretically, it’s next year. We have 150 big vehicles built. But, to be perfectly honest, [I just finished Happy Feet  2], and I’m not even there in my head right now.

Do you have any ideas for a third film yet?

If you put a gun to my head and said, ‘You have to come up with a story for Happy Feet 3,’ I’d say, ‘Shoot me.’ I really would have no idea. The stories creep up on you. You just have to allow the stories to come, and then they get in like little ear worms in your head and they won’t go away.

If that happens and we’ve got the energy, we’ll do a third one. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. That’s the only way you can do it. It has to be authentic. I really wanted to make this film better than the first one. Otherwise, at my age, what’s the point? You really want to make it better.

If something comes up that’s really exciting and I can convey that enthusiasm to other people, then there would be a third one.