INT: Wood/Williams

What happens when the director of the MAD MAX franchise as well as THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK and LORENZO’S OIL decides to make a family film? Well we got a taste of it in BABE: PIG IN THE CITY and now for all you dancing penguin fans we get HAPPY FEET. George Miller’s music filled tribute to the bird that cannot fly is surprisingly smart and is filled with some terrific voice talent including Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman and a personal favorite of mine, E.G. Daily.

At the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel, Elijah Wood, Robin Williams and Mr. George Miller himself stopped by to talk penguin. They spoke about working with “animated animals”, Elijah’s horrible singing and of course, global warming; HAPPY FEET is not just a fluffy talking animal movie, it’s a unique, music filled tale of what happens when you accept who you are, even when nobody else will. So if you didn’t get enough of these birds in MARCH OF THE PENGUINS, I recommend you check this out.

Elijah Wood Robin Williams George Miller

Mr. Miller, can you compare and contrast the experience the live animals in the BABE films vs. these computer generated ones [in HAPPY FEET]?

George Miller (GM): Ah, in a way, it's a lot easier. Obviously, [it's] a lot easier working with computer-generated animals, but a lot slower.

Elijah Wood (EW): They're friendlier as well.

GM: Yeah.

Robin Williams (RW): And people don't eat computers.

GM:  Exactly, exactly…

RW:  Cyber pork is not very [appetizing]…

GM:  There's a good answer. Look, animal trainers, particularly the ones we had on the BABE films, were really, really surprisingly a lot easier to work with animals than one would normally think. But of course working with computer-generated creatures, it's very painstaking work. But obviously you can get the creatures to do whatever you want. And when we first decided to do this movie, we realized that we weren't ever going to be able to train penguins. They're not domestic animals. You can't go to Antarctica and screw around with their environment. It's a very delicate environment so this was the only way to do it.

Elijah, is there any connection whatsoever between the lonely Hobbit and his lonely voyage in LORD OF THE RINGS?

EW: Oh, here we go! [Laughter] Here we go…

RW:  [Imitating SMEAGOL] He just loves… [Laughter] all these questions...

And a little happy-footed penguin who stands apart from the crowd and has to find his own destiny?

EW:  Ah, as much as you'd like to read into it, I guess. That's about it. No, I don't think there's much of a connection but I'm sure you could read a connection into that if you'd like.

RW:  Big Feet.

EW:  Yeah… big feet.

RW:  Fluffy feet.

EW:  Fluffy feet.

RW:  That was the initial, the Australian title of the movie was, FLUFFY FEET. [Laughter]

Robin, how did you go about finding your “inner-macho”?

RW:  [As Ramón]  For me to do dis, to be de tiny but very powerful penguin, is to know the Argentinean male, to say “Más Huevos” a word in Spanish meaning eggs, also means something else for those who speak Spanish [“balls”].  But it is to give him some machismo.  Small but powerful and we penguins, we say size does not make a difference.  It is very important to have dis kind of joke dis early in de morning.  [Laughter] But, I want to play dis man to give him the power… Ramón, is a small but once again, come closer… let me talk to ju and you know dis very much… and if I day ju, I don’t mean in a like Mel Gibson kind of way [Laughter] I mean it in a, let me talk to YOU.  That way… sorry George.  [Laughter]  But for me, I love to do dis very much.  Thank you.

Judging from your earlier work, most of us probably would not have expected you to get into family films. What made you realized you could do family-friendly films and still keep the George Miller sensibility in there?

GM:  I think basically it's all driven by story. The thing that gets me hooked on any project is story, and this was a good story. You know, at the time we were doing this, we were also preparing to do the fourth MAD MAX movie. Maybe I'm a little kind of dissonance in my brain, but I don't see a lot of difference between those two films really. I'm trying to tell good stories. The fact is it doesn't really matter what medium there is. I think probably I'm getting also a little wiser somehow. I've got kids, the only movies I see these days at home are basically kid's movies so you kind of get into that mold as well.  And also I love to tell stories that you can see, I like to go to movies with kids and my teenage daughter and my mother. I like it to be a family outing. But mainly it's the story. That's the main thing that gets me hooked on a film. Does that make sense?

So sex and violence doesn’t play a factor with you?

RW: Not with Penguins.

GM:  [Laughs]   Well, you know… no, it doesn't. Obviously it's all story driven. I don’t make many films, LORENZO’S OIL, you can kind of connect that with the BABE films or MAD MAX or indeed HAPPY FEET - but I think the one thing they all have - probably they have two things in common. One is very conscious, which is to tell the best story you can, and the second one I guess really is without understanding why, is that I like telling stories that basically follow the hero myth. It just happens unconsciously.

Elijah, can you sing?

EW:  Can I really sing? I can hold a tune.  My voice is not nearly as bad as Mumble. It was actually kind of great though because I was called on to sing really poorly for the film, and I thought I did a pretty competent job of singing poorly. [Laughter] But they actually digitally made it worse. So when I saw the film, like I knew what I had done, but my God, they made it sound horrendous. It's wonderful.

And what about dancing?

EW: Again, I've got rhythm, but I wouldn't call myself a competent dancer either.

Robin, have you always had a burning desire to sing "My Way" in Spanish?

RW:  [As Ramón] I have a burning desire… [Laughter] and many of the people I have been with had to take medication. But it is the idea to sing "My Way"!!!  It is a very beautiful song to sing, especially behind another penguin in kind of a BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN - I love you - kind of I can't quit you Mumble, kind of way. George said, don't go there, but it's a subtext like the two gay penguins in the Manhattan Zoo. They were there for a long time and then one got fed up. "I don't know who you are any more. I brought you pebbles and you just sit on them."  But I wanted to sing that. It's fun to do, especially with that Gypsy Kings. It's a great thing.

Elijah, you had mentioned that this film had taken a long time.  Could you and Robin talk about the process of recording the dialogue and how long it took?  Was it improvised or did you work alone?

EW:  Hmm… Well, to speak about the recording process, we were lucky enough to work together much of the time, which is nice.  You know, the nature of doing an animated film is oftentimes it’s completely based on the actors schedules and its not always you get to be in a room with the other actors that you’re meant to be working with.  It really helps to make the scenes come alive and to breath life into them when you’ve got other people to play off of.

RW:  Especially all the Chicano comics were great.

EW:  They were amazing.

RW:  That was a pretty wild group of people to have in one room.  Most of them have other gigs but it was great just to riff.  It was a good group to play off of and George would let us go and then pick things and expand upon that, which is once again another luxury that you don’t normally get.  But it was certainly fun to do, there was never a time I went home and… I always left feeling kind of exhilarated because you get to play in the room with other people.

Mr. Williams, so much of your comedy is physical, do you feel handcuffed when you are doing voice work?  Which kind of work do you prefer?

RW:  Well, I prefer to be handcuffed just at home [Laughter].  But, that’s the idea of… voice work for me is great fun especially when it’s a chance to do two different voices especially one that is machismo like Ramon and a chance to sing and to do a Barry White like character, that for me is a gift.  It started with ALADDIN and I’ve done a lot of animated films since and it’s always a gift.

You are free, literally, I mean I love to be physical but in a weird way, they video tape you and they get a lot of who I am, even though I never thought of myself as Barry.  It was fun to know that in a weird sort of way they capture that, they create a character from ground up.  There’s nothing like it, that’s the joy of animation.  I love doing live action movies but there’s a great joy in doing animation.  Especially with music, [it’s] pretty extraordinary to have that chance for me.

Was there any rotoscoping of the penguins for their physical actions?

GM:  There was a lot of… we had a guy called Dr. Gary Miller who is known as Dr. Penguin who spent seventeen years in Antarctica, he knows them backwards.  We worked on the characters from their anatomy up, from their skeleton up and then there was a huge amount of reference material that we got on two expeditions down there and also a lot of documentary footage and there was some… we’d study the range of motion, how penguins swim, how they walked, so there was an enormous amount of study.  There was a little bit of rotoscoping of actual penguins but only as a way for the animators to kind of go to penguin school really.

Robin, did you learn anything from making this film?

RW:  Some of the things I already knew about the nature of over fishing and environmentally, the one thing that isn't really in this movie but is actually happening is Antarctica is melting. Both North and South poles are turning into a pool, literally. There are large areas that don't exist anymore. Which is why initially, we were going to just go down and shoot plates but they thought about it and it was too late. Areas were disappearing. Areas the size of New Zealand and New Hampshire would melt which causes areas, if you're living by the sea, you'll notice. In ten to fifteen years, you'll really notice. Also the idea of the industrial fishing affects everyone.

Those factory ships play this game of hit and run with the international fishing limits and they basically, somebody said it's like hunting squirrels with a bulldozer. They pull everything in and they are only looking for certain types of fish and everything else dies and they just throw it back. It's like chumming. They just basically destroy and have just fished out large populations of fish throughout the world. If your population depends on that, you'll find your food source rapidly depleting and it's been done over the last period of last ten years and it's mainly a few countries and you know who you are.

[Speaking in fake Japanese] This issue of controlling that as they push their way further North, it really screws up the entire food chain and we're at it. That combined with the issues of other creatures and their existence. The number of extinctions recently has dramatically increased.  Did I learn that?  I knew it coming in but I learned more about it.  The most amazing thing about this was they’ve given penguins a very unique character because each one of these penguins is recognizable...  The animators and the gift they’ve given and what George did with them is to give them this incredible animation combined with water ballet that pretty much, even Esther Williams on acid couldn’t do.  [Laughter]

The idea of something so extraordinary, I’ve learned about that and something so beautiful.  And great beauty exists in this and shouldn’t be allowed to just deteriorate.  And also, Mumble's character, the idea of whether he's dropped or not, there's always someone pushing the envelope in terms of performance or being slightly out there or different that takes us to a new place. His desire to explore and say, "Wait a minute. I don't accept this." [It’s] Talking about the idea of how do you survive? It's by actually going "no, no. This is not right" and dealing with that. As human beings, we have to wake up or we're gone. The penguins will go first and then it'll be us because, as a species we're kind of holding on.

I was watching this film, a BBC film last night which talked about exploring of the planet, we are surrounded by a lot of failed Eco-systems, Moon being one, Mars, there’s evidence of water on Mars and rivers and it didn’t take.  You realize that we have planets that guard us like Jupiter and Saturn and take the hits of the comets but it is miraculous that we exist on this planet… that it took.  Are there others?  I hope.  Will we find them?  I hope.  But right now, existing together and protecting for our own safety because our survival depends on it.

These systems work together and when the [North and South] poles rise and large parts of this world will be under water and other parts will be in draught.  And the numbers of hurricanes now have gone through the English alphabet and they’re now using Hebrew letters.  The idea that there are massive amounts of scientists saying you can address this with alternative fuels or whatever but there are ways of doing it, but Australia with no ozone.  It cooks people.  Without [an] ozone you fry.  And without a magnetic field, we’ll also fry.  Does a little penguin movie help?  Well, maybe.

Elijah, what do you want kids to take away from this?

EW: I think the outstanding message for children, but I think adults can take something from it too, is that sense of individuality and I think we all go through life, particularly as young people in a school environment as the most typical place where we experience that sense of having to conform and not being accepted or having a character defect or some defect that people pick up on and excise you from that larger community. But I think adults can relate to that to. I think it’s something we experience in all ways of life.

And I think for kids, to see this character who is largely not accepted by his penguin family, by his friends or the community at large because he dances and he doesn't sing… the beautiful thing about Mumble is he's sort of… he’s beautifully unaware of it. It's not so much confidence as much in the beginning. He just doesn't see that there's anything wrong. He then, as a result of that, goes on this journey to truly establish who he is and also look for greater answers for these questions that he has, but I think it's a great message for young people to realize these things that separate us from each other are ultimately the things that make us who we are. That's something to be celebrated.

Elijah, did you have any unique traits as a child that someone frowned on or wanted you to grow out of?

EW:  I had a lot of energy. I think Robin can relate to that. Yeah, I was very energetic. And there were times when I was younger, I wasn't so much spastic or crazy but I just had a lot of energy and a certain passion for life and sometimes that wasn't always accepted or appreciated mainly by adults.

Let me know what you think. Send questions and comments to [email protected].

Source: JoBlo.com



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