BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — For the follow-up to his 2006 Oscar-winning “Happy Feet,” director/producer/co-writer George Miller once again took the unusual approach of bringing his actors together to lend their voices to animated penguins, elephant seals, krill and more.
With “Happy Feet Two,” the filmmaker put two top-notch voice-over performers — the versatile “Aladdin's” genie of many personalities Robin Williams, who reprises his dual roles as small but macho Adelie penguin Ramon and charismatic Rockhopper penguin guru Lovelace, and the resourceful multi-accented actor behind many of the “The Simpsons” characters Hank Azaria, who joins the sequel as a mysterious and mesmeric avian newcomer named the Mighty Sven — into the same recording studio and let them improvise until they sweated through their shirts.
So, did the quick-witted men of many voices ever engage in a voice-off, and if so, who won?
“That sounds, like, pretty sexual. ‘We're gonna voice-off right now,'” Williams joked at a recent news conference at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, suddenly switching from a sultry voice to a WrestleMania announcer-type shout. “Bring it! Be there, 400 voices no waiting.”
“You're going down!” Azaria countered in a deep, masculine tone.
“You're going down Sunday! Castilians only! Be there, watch them go at it one on one,” Williams replied, ending with a hail of rapid-fire Spanish babble, then adding with a chuckle, “No.”
“Yeah, no,” Azaria added. “I'd be much too terrified of anything like that.”
“Me, too. That'd be too crazy,” Williams said. “No, I just sit back and just watch 'cause he's done so many amazing things. I just go ‘Yeah!' It's like musicians riffing with each other. It's not as much like ‘Well, I'll top that,' but it is that thing of like just watching and going ‘Wow!'
“You just build on each other. It's a riff. It's like jazz. And when you have someone as funny as he is ... it's great. It's fun.”
In the sequel, tap-dancing Emperor penguin Mumble (Elijah Wood) has grown from an awkward nonconformist to a leader in his colony, which now embraces both dancing and singing as desirable forms of expression. Mumble and his big-voiced sweetie Gloria (pop star Pink) now are parents of a bashful boy named Erik (Ava Acres).
Mumble urges Erik to try out his happy feet in a joyous musical number, but the chick's clumsy attempt at dancing draws derisive laughs from most of the colony. When he learns that his dad's pal Ramon (Williams) has decided to return home to Adelie Land, Erik tags along. They find that the changing landscape has turned Adelie Land into a haven for various species of penguins, who are no longer seeking the guidance of preacher-type Lovelace but of a new leader, the enigmatic Sven. The Scandinavian-accented Sven not only can fly but also professes that all penguins can learn to soar if they simply put their minds to it.
“This was the most soulful animation experience I ever had,” Azaria, 47, said. “We all went to Australia to record together. And not only did that free us up to improvise and bounce off each other a lot, but it became a very rather intense character exploration. It was one of the most gratifying creative experiences I've ever had in any medium.”
For Williams, 60, knowing that Miller was overseeing the process gave the cast the confidence to improvise freely.
“You just give your best because he kind of lets you riff, and you trust that he'll pick the best stuff, which he does.”
Speaking of best stuff, how about that voice-off?
“How would be the rules of that?” Azaria asked. “It'd be weird.”
“Round 2!” Williams shouted in his WrestleMania voice.
“Rounds then,” Azaria replied. “But still what would occupy it actually? We'd both do like a ...”
“Pakistanis for 20! Irish cabdriver! Russian pimp!” Williams exclaimed.
“‘So Williams took the Irish cabdriver round,'” Azaria said in a spot on imitation of a sports commentator.
“‘I don't know what he's gonna do for the Russian pimp because the Irish cabdriver sure had it going,'” Williams said switching briefly to his best color man voice, then cursing colorfully in a brogue. “‘Wait that's Scottish!' ‘Too late! Disqualified!'”
“See, I'd lose,” Azaria said with a smile. “I'll tell you that right now.”
Travel and accommodations provided by Warner Bros.