Mumble (Elijah Wood), the tap dancing penguin, has a problem, because his tiny son, Erik, is reluctant to dance and runs away, meeting The Mighty Sven (Hank Azaria), a penguin who can fly. Mumble has no hope of competing with this charismatic new role model.
But when the penguins get trapped it is the heroic Mumble who gathers all manner of creatures, along with his best friend Ramon (Robin Williams), to work together to make things right.
The movie’s producer/writer/director, George Miller, had the cast fly to Australia and voice their characters together on one sound stage, which is practically unheard of in the world of animation.
Can you compare this experience with your other experiences doing animated films?
Hank: This was the most soulful animation experience I’ve ever had. We all went to Australia to record together. Not only did that free us up to improvise and bounce off each other a lot, but it became a very intense character exploration.
It was one of the most gratifying creative experiences I’ve ever had, in any medium. I really enjoyed it.
Robin: We got to work together in the same room, and I forgot that when I did other animated films, I was alone most of the time. With Aladdin, it didn’t matter because I was creating 40 different voices.
But with this, it was so great to have everybody in the room together. You build a rhythm.
Elijah: Going to Australia, this time around, made the experience more immersive. We weren’t in Los Angeles, going home at night to our own homes.
We were all staying in the same hotel and it was more of a collective, immersive experience. I loved that about it.
How did you go about developing the voice you wanted to use for your characters?
Hank: I worked with a vocal coach. I like to do that, when it’s an accent. Scandinavian was a new one, on me. We worked to make it really meticulous and get an authentic Scandinavian accent.
Then, we realized that it was funnier, in many places, to have a bad Scandinavian accent, so we went in and out.
Robin: For Ramon, George said, ‘Make him an Argentinean football player.’ Recently, I had a Hispanic woman come up to me and say, ‘You know, your accent is very Cuban.’ I wanted to make him small, but fierce, much like myself. And then, with Lovelace [the other character I play], I combined a little bit of Foghorn Leghorn and Barry White.
Plus, when I grew up in Detroit, there were all these Baptist ministers that you would hear on the radio, or sometimes on TV. I gave him that kind of power. It was easy to separate the two characters.
Elijah: I just had my own voice, really. This time around, the register was a little bit lower because he’s older. That was the only major difference .
Robin and Hank, since you have considerable experience doing animation work, in a booth by yourself, what was it like to work with the cast for this? Did you move around a lot?
Hank: In my cranky old age, I actually prefer recording alone now. On The Simpsons, for example, because I find that the director can just focus on what I’m doing and I can do a lot of variations.
A lot of times, when I record with a group, I’ll stay after class for another hour or two and go, ‘Let me try a bunch of things I was thinking of.’
I wasn’t reluctant to do it. I’ve also done a lot of recording together, and that can be more fun. But, I had no idea how much the community of us being together would make a tremendous difference. Not only was it fun, and a very warm, fantastic experience, but we were exploring the characters together, as we were doing it.
I was really just trying to find my character. The environment that George Miller set was extraordinary. A lot of the work was very emotional. It wasn’t just funny. And, both for the improvising and the emotional stuff, it was a tremendously supportive, creative environment. I’ve never experienced that before, in any other situation, honestly.
Robin: You do end up moving around because you do get excited, working together. At the end of the day, I’d go, ‘I’m just doing a voice, but I’ve sweated through a shirt.’ But, because of the activity and moving off each other, you just build a rhythm. It’s like an old radio play. We would always break away and start to work together. That was because of [George Miller].
Elijah: Sometimes, George would grab hold of me. I had to react to something physically, and he was down there, grabbing onto my leg for a reaction. Sometimes we would get on the floor to record things.
It was incredibly physical. For some of the emotional bits, I remember sharing a mic and that was beautiful. It really went far and above the standard recording process. It was very immersive.
Robin Williams recently hit a milestone in his life – turning sixty. Listen to what he has to say about it by clicking below.
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