November 14, 2006
Black-tie only … penguins steal the spotlight from their animated cousins at the Hollywood premiere.
George Miller's campaign to crack the animation market has begun, writes Peter Mitchell.
A SNOW storm, five cute penguins and a long line of celebrities caused havoc on Hollywood Boulevard when the Australian director George Miller staged the world premiere for his new film, Happy Feet.
The $111 million animated musical comedy is a showcase of Australian acting and filmmaking talent. The tale about a colony of singing penguins in Antarctica stars Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, Hugo Weaving, Anthony LaPaglia and Magda Szubanski.
Despite a warm reception for the film, 61-year-old Miller, who launched Mel Gibson's international career in 1979 with Mad Max and made the world fall in love with pigs with 1995's Babe with director Chris Noonan, was playing it cool before the premiere at Hollywood's historic Grauman's Chinese Theatre.
"My celebration comes later," Miller said. "Once I see it with a paying audience and see that they take something from the movie, I'll know whether to celebrate."
Perhaps he took his cue, too, from one of the first reviews of the film. The influential US trade magazine Variety declared that viewers who had grown weary of animated movies would find a tonic in Happy Feet thanks to its striking visuals, invigorating songs and lively characterisations.
"Although the film might prove a bit too different for a minority of parents, general reaction is likely to be one of jaw-dropping amazement," wrote Todd McCarthy. "There is no mistaking Happy Feet as anything but the work of a real filmmaker; in terms of composition, camera movement and editing, the picture is conceived as a 'real' movie, and emerges as one of the very best directed animated films on record … the attention to detail is phenomenal; the humour ample. But the story is inescapably serious on both personal and societal levels."
Sunday's premiere was grand even by Hollywood standards, with the usual red carpet switched to ice white and wind machines blowing fake snow in the air.
Five penguins, enticed by an animal trainer with a bucket of fish, waddled down the white carpet and posed, almost on cue, for the world's media.
Kidman, who has been lying low since her husband, Keith Urban, entered a rehabilitation program, and Jackman were expected to attend but were late cancellations.
The comedian Robin Williams, who voiced Lovelace the Guru, a smooth-talking penguin with a love for females, ran amok.
Williams said he was a fan of Miller's work since he first watched Mad Max.
"I thought, 'Well, if he's worked with Mel, he can try me'," Williams joked. "George is the sweetest man; he's like Gandhi in a suit."
Elijah Wood voices the clumsy Mumble, the only penguin in the colony who can't sing. Instead, Mumble has a talent for dance, which leads his ostracisation.
Mumble's parents are voiced by Kidman and Jackman, who both sing in the film. Weaving voices the grumpy penguin, Noah the Elder, who is disturbed by Mumble's dancing, and Szubanski gets plenty of laughs as Miss Viola, a strict singing teacher.
Happy Feet, which opens in cinemas here on Boxing Day, is a landmark film for Australia as the nation's first 3-D animated feature film.
The Sydney company Animal Logic was responsible for the film's animation and the Australian film production company Village Roadshow funded the project in conjunction with the Hollywood studio Warner Bros.