When you’re an entertainment journalist, you get to meet pretty much every famous person over the course of a year or two. By year seven, there are only a handful of rare folks, usually the ones who make movies less frequently. Since Happy Feet is George Miller’s first film since Babe: Pig in the City, it was my first chance to meet the legendary Aussie action master.
One of the first things Miller addressed in discussing the animated dancing penguin movie was that there isn’t a whole lot of difference between it and his other violent or sexy grown-up films. “I think basically it's all driven by story,” said Miller. “The thing that gets me hooked on any project is story, and this was a good story. 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 also getting a little wiser somehow. I've got kids, the only movies I see these days at home are basically kids 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 the movies with kids and my teenage daughter and my mother. I like it to be a family outing. But mainly it's the story.”
So the man who had Jack Nicholson talking about pussy has found a way to get his message out to a broader audience. “I don't make many films. Lorenzo's Oil or the Babe films or Mad Max or indeed Happy Feet, I think 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, without understanding why, is that I Like telling stories that basically follow the hero myth. It just happens unconsciously.”
Happy Feet’s hero is a penguin who cannot sing. All the other penguins with their love songs think it’s weird that Mumbles (Elijah Wood) dances instead. So he must venture out to find a new home, but along the way he learns there are many ways to express love, and he helps the penguins deal with the human world imposing on them. It’s actually a religious message, because the elder penguins just think their losing their food supply because they’ve angered the gods. It’s actually human construction crews.
“As far as the stodgy world in which we live in, we've all been, whether at school or in our lives with our parents, there are always the people that say don't do things this way, do it the other way. However, people want to interpret the film politically, it's in the eyes of the beholder. There's always those characters in stories and for people who don't believe in climate change, in the country where I come from Australia, we have no ozone and we have the highest rate of skin cancer in the world, the further south you go, and more particularly, we've had the worst drought on record that's continuing, so I can see garden drying up. Something's happening out there. We can be in denial about it. Sydney's real estate is under threat near the harbor because the water's rising. So, all those issues are present in the world and should be addressed through stories.”
With a healthy playlist of pop hits, Happy Feet is sure to have a soundtrack parents will be forced to play in their cars ad nauseum. Miller chose those songs carefully.
“We spent a lot of time talking about the music. Obviously, we went for iconic music given that all the penguins had a differentiate with each having a unique song. So, who is more iconic than Elvis? Obviously, The Beach Boys are iconic, Beatles. Obviously there are songs that I like but the average of people working on this film is 26 and even a song we had at one point, I can’t remember, Elijah heard it and he said, ‘You’re not going to use that song on a film that I’m in.’ He didn’t say it that way. He said it in a really nice way and people came up to me and said, ‘Look, Elijah hates that song. It’s so uncool’. I said ‘really?’ I can’t remember what it was but I said ‘okay’, because Elijah is such a music nut and Robin too. We went endlessly through songs and Alan Horn who runs Warner Brothers was in a band when he was a young guy and said, ‘Look, lets get great music.’”
Happy Feet opens November 17.