Need a great way to cool down as the first day of summer officially approaches? Mr. Popper's Penguins opens in theaters this Friday, June 17, and with a cast that includes eight penguins, the film has the feel of a whimsical winter wonderland. This fun family movie stars Jim Carrey, Carla Gugina, and Angela Lansbury, and it is based on the classic book by Richard and Florence Atwater. At a round table interview series in L.A., we had a chance to sit down with the stars, as well as director Mark Waters and producer John Davis, and we learned some very cool facts about the making of the movie...
On the penguins...
- According to producer John Davis, several different types of penguins were "auditioned" for the roles. Because of the bird flu scare, the penguins had to be North American. The actual penguins finally chosen to play the roles are Gentoo Penguins, which grow to be about 20-36 inches tall. John Davis relates, "We found the right penguins and we built an entire penguin habitat next to the stage in Brooklyn. And then, we had pools for them and lounging areas and all that stuff. And we got to go in every day. I got to go in every day and play with the penguins which was amazing."
- The scenes weren't all filmed with the live penguins, though. Many of the difficult scenes were done with CGI penguins. As a credit to the animators, it's very difficult to tell in some scenes whether the penguins are real or CGI. But, it made a difference on set. Jim Carrey said, "I always opted for using the live penguins whenever I could. It's about 70/30 kind of thing." And, Mark Waters talked about the decision to include live penguins saying, "If we did work with live penguins half the time, which is what we ended up doing, then everything would be held to the standard of it has to be as kind of crazy and anarchic and funny as actual penguins are."
- The penguins in the movie get very loud at times, and Jim Carrey had some interesting things to say about acting with those loud-beaked penguins: "They're a maximum disturbance, and they actually sound like the Velociraptors from Jurassic Park. I thought, "That sounds like a raptor or something like that." Mark said they actually used the sound of a penguin's voice for those dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, which is kind of cool."
- Where are the penguins now? Mark Waters revealed, "The reason we got these penguins is that we highjacked them, legally, when they were being transferred from the Biodome in Montreal to Hong Kong. And so, now they've landed in Hong Kong again at the Ocean Park Institute there. And they're living happily there again.
On the very cool set temperatures...
- Carla Gugino, who plays "Amanda" in the film, related, "It was hysterical because the penguins don't function very well over 40 degrees. So, literally our set was 40 degrees and we shot in the winter in New York. We started sort of when it was still warm out, and then we were freezing on set. And then, finally the outside caught up to the inside. But, I'm not good in the cold at all. "
- Carla also let us in on an interesting little production secret, watch for this scene in the film: "The scene that we shot very briefly outside of Tavern on the Green where it said, 'It's spring.' Walking into that scene in the sleeveless dress and everything, it was, I think again, like 13 degrees or something. And so, it was that kind of thing where we're all in the van and the heat's on and we've got our booties on. And it's like, "Okay, go." The mission was drop everything, run outside, and then act, "It's so warm and beautiful."
On filming at the Guggenheim Museum...
- Director Mark Waters relates about going to the actual Guggenheim Museum, "We had to kind of shoot everything at night in between the time that the museum would close and reopen in the morning. We'd have to bring in the entire carnival of people and light the whole place and shoot the sequence. And Angela Lansbury is 85 years old and it's 4:00 in the morning, and she's dancing around with Jim Carrey, getting spun around. And I'm saying to myself, I can't believe this is real. They actually let us in here to shoot? Are they out of their minds?"
- Angela Lansbury marveled about the use of CGI in the scene at the museum saying, "We were just pretending that [the penguins] were there, because that was at the Guggenheim Museum with priceless art all over the walls, although it had all been pushed aside, you understand. But, that whole thing where the water comes whooshing down, it was a wonderful special effect because certainly that wasn't the way it was. I don't know how they did that. That was the miracle of special effects."
I love the story about the "Springtime" scene when it was actually freezing outside. The more movies I see, the more I am amazed at how talented the filmmakers are at creating all these illusions about the characters and settings. In fact, I saw the film a second time, and in many scenes, I really couldn't tell if the penguins were CG or real. Also, having seen the film before, I was able on that second run to pay more attention to the audience reactions; there are many laugh out loud moments, and I loved hearing the sounds of children giggling all around me. Penguins are funny little comedians in and of themselves, but pair them with Jim Carrey, and you've got the makings of a really fun flick.
More on Mr. Popper's Penguins:
- Mr. Popper's Penguins - Movie Review
- Mr. Popper's Penguins - Movie Trailer, Fun Facts and More
- Mr. Popper photos and characters, including more fun quotes from each of the actors about their characters in the movie!
(Photo © 20th Century Fox. All rights reserved.)