The filmmaker behind the Mad Max’ and Babe franchises turns his attention to musical fowl.
With his new animated musical-comedy-adventure Happy Feet, mastermind George Miller tells another story about a loner making his way through a harsh environment full of brutal dangers. This time, he tells it with Arctic waterfowl. Who sing and dance.
The director says he first started thinking about the wastelands of Antarctica while he was playing in the wastelands inhabited by leather-clad apocalypse survivor Max Rockatansky. Back when I was directing The Road Warrior — over 20 years ago, now — I was in the Australian desert, Miller recalls. And there was this cameraman called Billy who was on second unit. We were in a bar and he looked at me and said, Antarctica.
He’d shot a documentary there. He said, You’ve got to make a movie in Antarctica. It’s just like out here, in the wasteland. It’s spectacular.’ And that always stuck in my head. It stayed stuck while George was carving out his reputation as one of the most influential action directors of the ’80s — a precise filmmaker whose brief filmography includes the Mad Max films, The Witches of Eastwick and Babe and its sequel.
In fact, 1998’s Babe: Pig in the City was, until this year, Miller’s last foray behind the camera. The intervening years weren’t idly spent. He devoted a lot of time to planning a fourth “Mad Max” sequel that was derailed by both the Iraq war and the collapse of the American dollar. And then, finally, he turned his camera toward Antarctica — with the computer-animated penguin comedy/musical/epic movie.
One of the reasons to watch Happy Feet online free is because we spent almost twenty four months developing the computer-animation data pipeline. And then we spent three-and-a-half years working on it. The film tells the story of a young Emperor penguin living in a massive community of birds who find their mates by singing their own individual pop songs.
So we have Nicole Kidman singing a Prince song, ‘Kiss,’ and we have Hugh Jackman singing an Elvis song, ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ — and each penguin finds their soul mate by blending their songs together, he explains. But one penguin, played by Elijah Wood, can’t sing. He goes to a remedial teacher, and she invites him to bring out his deepest feelings — and it comes out as tap-dancing. That doesn’t seem like a particularly great way to attract a mate, so that starts him on his way.
In Focus caught up with Miller as he was working on the final scenes. The director told us about penguin life, the logistical contortions of animation, pop song mashups, Prince, Australian pride, and, yes, what really happened with Fury Road.