George Miller has more ‘Happy Feet’

After “Happy Feet,” George Miller’s beautifully rendered fantasy about a tap-dancing penguin, grossed nearly $400 million and beat Pixar’s “Cars” for Best Animated Feature at the 2007 Oscars, it didn’t take a prophet to foresee “Happy Feet Two,” opening Friday.

Yet, the idea for a sequel struck Miller while he was still editing the original. Whether or not “Happy Feet” made a box office splash, he was determined to pursue it.

Miller, 66, is no stranger to unexpected flashes of inspiration. When his muse beckons, the director — who made it big in the 1980s with three frenetic “Mad Max” adventures, then reinvented his style in the 1995 children’s fable “Babe” — is powerless to refuse the call.

“The last thing I ever wanted to do is another ‘Mad Max’ movie,” he explains. “I was in Los Angeles one day and the story flashed into my mind — the core of it — and I tried to put it out of my mind.

“But during the 14-hour flight back to Sydney, in a sort of hypnagogic state, a furious road movie started to play in my head. It wasn’t fully formed, but it was enough to get me excited. That’s something you don’t have any control over. It has to come out of the subconscious. It can’t be forced.”

That said, Miller, tentatively set to film his first “Mad Max” movie since 1985’s “Beyond Thunderdome” next year (without Mel Gibson), has no plans to make “Happy Feet Three.” If Warner Bros. chairman Barry Meyer put a gun to his head and demanded a new story, Miller says he’d implore him to pull the trigger.

Happily, “Two” is the result of a more amicable process. It required him to lure Elijah Wood and Robin Williams back to the fold, along with newcomers including Alecia “Pink” Moore, who replaced the late Brittany Murphy.

Rather than record their parts individually in a sound booth, as he had for “Happy Feet,” Miller invited his cast to work together in his native Australia.

Williams, 60, cites the decision as proof of the director’s genius: “When I did other animations I was alone. With everyone in the room together, you build a rhythm. And [George] would be there, listening with his eyes closed. I was starting to get worried about him. But every now and then, he’d look up, eyes lit up, and you’d know [the scene] worked. It was amazing, the freedom he’d give us to riff. That’s when you know you’re in good hands.”

If you go

Happy Feet Two

Starring Voices of Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, Alecia “Pink” Moore

Written by George Miller, Gary Eck, Warren Coleman, Paul Livingston

Directed by George Miller

Rated PG

Running time 1 hour 40 minutes

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