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Music plays a huge role in Happy Feet Two, and was integral to the development of the screenplay, as George Miller explains. But making the film was ‘crazy fun’ for Robin Williams. Andrew L. Urban talks to the director and the star.

We’re sitting in a Sydney hotel room turned into a mini studio for the media junket that is hyping up Happy Feet Two; opposite me side by side are director George Miller and voice star Robin Williams. My first question is to George Miller: “Whose idea was it to segue from the tragic aria E Lucevan Le Stelle from Tosca, straight into the Rawhide theme?” At this, Robin Williams cracks up and Miller laughs; “I’m afraid it was mine ….”

He then goes on to explain that the scene was originally written with Erik speaking. It’s a heartfelt tribute to his father. “He was never going to be able to speak as powerfully, and I’ve always loved that aria, they way it starts quietly and the way it gets sooo intense….…so we took the liberty of putting our own lyrics in there and it just carries you along. 

“And Rawhide,” [Williams splutters with laughter again] because it was for a scene with the elephant seals, this big, massive herd and seemed just right. So always, the music choice is driven by the drama.” And, he adds, “we have John Powell writing the score. He said to me, the first thing you need to know about me is I am a musical slut, I love all kinds of music.” [Williams interjects with a gravel voice: ‘Great website … musicalslutDOTcom …] 

"if we did a great line his eyes would flash open!"

With Happy Feet Two, the music and the many songs in the film were an integral part of the development and writing process from the start. “Rather like a radio play,” he adds. Indeed, Miller would sit in the control booth during the voice recordings with his eyes closed. “We knew he was paying attention,” quips Williams, “because if we did a great line his eyes would flash open! [Williams puts on his triumphant shout voice: He opened his eyes! We have a winner!]”

Williams had two roles: he reprises Ramon, the talkative would-be romantic Adelie penguin who is scouting Emperor penguin land for its beautiful senoritas. He still fancies himself …

The other role is that of the rotund guru, Lovelace, who now wears a knitted sweater . “Lovelace was rescued from an oil slick,” explains Williams. “A penguin loses buoyancy in a slick, so he was scrubbed up by humans - who the penguins refer to as ‘the aliens.’ But after being cleaned up, penguins lose some of the warmth of their feathers, so there are folks who knit little sweaters for rescued penguins. They can‘t swim in them, but until they‘re ready for release, they wear them. Lovelace‘s is striped; he looks like a tiny colourful Rasta penguin.”

To Williams, Lovelace looked like a combination of a soul singer (“like Barry White”) and an evangelist. “That’s how I found his voice,” he adds, throwing in a sample to the room’s delight.

But sometimes, no surprise, “we’d be fooling around, and I’d imagine Lovelace like a Baptist preacher speaking in tongues [he shouts some gibberish] and George would sit up and say, ‘hey do some more of that!’ I’d say, if I did more of that I’d pass out! It takes so much energy!”

The film explores the age old path to self discovery, from the viewpoint of someone who doesn’t quite fit in. Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood), The Master of Tap, has a problem because his tiny son, Erik (Ava Acres), is choreo-phobic. His attempts at dance are crude, so Erik gets very embarrassed, runs away and encounters The Mighty Sven (Hank Azaria) a penguin who can fly. Mumble has no hope of competing with this charismatic new role model – and the film teases out this father-son relationship within the framework of self discovery.

"The whole thing was crazy fun"

The work of recording the voices was made somewhat easier by having most of the cast together in the recording studio. “We all worked off each other in a wonderful way,” says Williams. “There was none of that ego nonsense of someone trying to show what they’ve got. We all shared and built off each other …The whole thing was crazy fun.”

He recalls one particular day when Azaria was recording a rather soul searching speech, “and everyone just stood around him, off camera, as it were, to give him as much to work with as possible. And they acted silently for him … that got Hank emotional.”

“Yes,” says Miller, “and it was really moving to watch.”

Published December 22, 2011

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George Miller and Robin Williams


Happy Feet Two

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