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Are Happy Feet and Mad Max: Fury Road sister films?

<I>Happy Feet</I> and <I>Mad Max: Fury Road</I> share many similarities.

Happy Feet and Mad Max: Fury Road share many similarities. Photo: Warner Bros, TND

In a recent interview with TikToker Reece Feldman, director George Miller agreed his children’s penguin film, Happy Feet, and the post-apocalyptic thriller Mad Max: Fury Road are sister films.

On first glance, it appears the only link between stories of tap-dancing penguins and dystopian road trips is Miller as director.

But, as a serious news organisation, we decided to investigate this claim – and it turns out there are many similarities.

@guywithamoviecamera

#wbpartner addressing the #happyfeet and #madmax theory 🐧 #furiosa #georgemiller #furiosaglobaltour

♬ original sound – reece

Feldman: “I’ve been arguing with my friends that Mad Max and Happy Feet share a lot of similarities in that like the scarcity of resources, the impact that humans have on the environment. I think that they are kind of like brother or sister films in ways.” 

Miller: “Absolutely … you know no one’s really brought that up before … People say how come you make films like Happy Feet and Mad Max? What’s the connection? There’s a lot of connection because they’re both allegorical and usually played over the top of both of them is something of the hero myth and also like all stories there’s an interplay with the zeitgeist.”

Environmental themes 

Happy Feet tells the tale of Mumble (Elijah Wood), a tap-dancing penguin in Antarctica who is ostracised by his community for being unable to sing.

The film’s main plot follows Mumble’s journey of acceptance as he meets penguin colonies from around the continent. However, it’s the film’s environmental subplot that links it to Mad Max.

The fish population of Antarctica is dwindling due to overfishing from “aliens” (humans), with dangerous scavenger birds moving into the penguin colonies in search of food. To prove himself to his community, Mumble travels to Florida to try and convince the humans to stop fishing, to limited avail.

When he returns to Antarctica however, human researchers who followed him home see Mumble and the colony dancing, sparking a movement that eventually leads to the banning of fishing in Antarctica, and the fish population booming once more.

Happy Feet and Mad Max: Fury Road posters

On the surface level, Mad Max: Fury Road could not be more disparate from Happy Feet.

It’s a survival film about a group of women escaping the tyrant Immortan Joe – a cult figure who controls access to water, food and petrol – in an epic road trip across a dystopian desert wasteland.

However, the underlying themes of both films are humanity’s impact on the environment and the control of resources.

In Happy Feet, this is shown through dwindling fish populations, plastic pollution and rise of hostile groups that blame Mumble’s oddities for the demise of food.

Similarly, Fury Road’s inhospitable desert setting, mutant creatures and frequent asking of “who killed the world?” pointedly reminds viewers that the world’s demise was humanity’s doing.

Sensory storytelling

Both films are set in deserts (ice in Happy Feet, sand in Fury Road), resulting in similar visual stylings due to the hostility of the environments.

As one Redditor notes, the storm scenes in both films feature near-identical shots of the incoming weather and the characters huddling.

Happy Feet (top) and Mad Max: Fury Road (bottom). Photo: Reddit/Tony_Montana82, Warner Bros.

The cult leaders in both films – Lovelace (Robin Williams) and Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) – also share a number of characteristics with long blond hair, neck/face coverings (plastic-bottle-ring choker and a toothy breathing apparatus), legions of loyal followers and strangely given Happy Feet is a kid’s film, a number of concubines.

Lovelace (Happy Feet) and Immortan Joe (Mad Max: Fury Road). Photo: Warner Bros

Music also plays an important role in both films.

Happy Feet is a jukebox musical whose in-film songs propel the plot, while Fury Road features an epic soundtrack and in-world guitar riffs to balance its minimal dialogue.

It should be noted that Miller’s strong use of visuals and sound design carry across all of his films and are part of his storytelling repertoire.

Wider reception

Happy Feet and Mad Max: Fury Road are two of Miller’s most successful films in terms of box office revenue and critical acclaim.

Happy Feet made an estimated $US343 million at the box office and won Academy and BAFTA awards for Best Animated Feature in 2006.

Mad Max: Fury Road took in $US380 million and was nominated for and won numerous accolades including six Academy Awards in 2016.

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