Actors Robin Williams, right, and Elijah Wood voice characters in the animated… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
Robin Williams and Elijah Wood have re-teamed for "Happy Feet Two," the 3-D sequel to the animated penguin musical that earned $180 million and took home an Oscar in 2007. This time around, the film's imagery is even sharper, the eco-themes more pressing and the cast much bigger. Williams revives the Barry White-inspired Lovelace character as well as the diminutive Latin lover Ramon. Wood brings back the soft-shoe stylist Mumble, who now is a father. Together with Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Hank Azaria, Sofia Vergara, hip-hop artist Common and pop singer Pink, they spent 10 intense days in an Australian studio, voicing their characters. Writer-director George Miller had Williams sweating through shirts, Wood rolling around on the floor and Damon shrieking like a girl. "Everyone thinks these movie stars are so narcissistic and self-absorbed," the filmmaker said. "It's totally the opposite. Their generosity is huge." Here, Wood and Williams talk Oscars, improvisation and climate change — oh boy, does Williams talk about climate change.
What was your response to "Happy Feet's" Oscar win?
Williams: When it won, I was just as proud as when I won mine [for "Good Will Hunting"]. I knew [the film] was a lot of fun. I knew the music was really wonderful. I knew we had a great time doing it. When it worked on that [award] level, I went, "Cool!"
What was it like working together on the sequel?
Williams: It really becomes very personal. ... You immerse yourself deeper. And you're free to do that. … You do have a sense of family, which is kind of the point of the second movie — about working together. That was the process of making it. There was very little time alone.
Wood: It is just as physical as traditional film acting.
Williams: I would sweat through shirts — just doing a voice. But you get very active and agitated and excited. You're all moving around and doing stuff. …You kick out a lot of energy.
Are there any moments of improvisation that ended up in the film?
Williams: In the first one, I was kidding around as Lovelace, doing that thing that Baptist preachers do, talking in tongues. [shouts nonsensically] And I did that and George went, "Now! Go more!" And I almost went into this kind of religious frenzy. I said, "George, if I keep going with this I'm going to pass out." But you do it. You have to have the faith that if you go there, he's going to use the best stuff. That's the only way you can do it. It takes someone like him to wade through 14 takes of weirdness to get to something really strange and beautiful.
What were your feelings about the environmental themes?
Williams: It's real. [Global warming] is breaking off Doomsday icebergs the size of New Hampshire. And [that is] totally adjusting the environment. One of the saddest shots in the movie is the shot of that polar bear perched on an ice floe and an orca's coming. You know that's not going to end well.
Wood: I love some of the subtle moments. In the beginning of the film, there's this incredible dance sequence. And they're dancing in puddles. We recognize as adults what the significance of that is.
Williams: And little patches of green [in Antarctica]. And you go, isn't that pretty? But you know what that means, right? It means that's melting. And why are we all together? The different breeds of penguins are being forced to migrate and share turf. What they are competing for is food.
The best of humanity comes out when we do reach out to each other. I think it was George Carlin who said, "Everyone talks about saving the planet." He goes, "The planet's going to go on just fine. We're the ones in danger. Save the humans." [activist-announcer's voice] "Save a human today. Call now." You have a fish going [exasperated fish voice], "Hello. My name's Gil. Welcome to Save the Humans Foundation." [back to normal voice] I'm not sure that [fish] would be very happy about that because they're going, "They're the ones that do it!" [back to announcer's voice] "Sign the petition." [effeminate voice] "Do you find humans aggressive? Yes. Are they taking your food source? Yes. Do you wish that they were gone? Probably."