“Furry Vengeance,” a slapstick story of the battle between man and wildlife in the mold of an extended Bugs Bunny cartoon, isn’t an animated movie. But its star Brendan Fraser, who takes most of the pratfalls, was certainly animated during a Dallas interview for the picture, even taking a comic fall in his chair at one point as his co-star Brooke Shields looked on bemused.

“I can take a lot of punishment,” Fraser said. “Dan Sanders”—the character he plays, a good-hearted guy who relocates his wife and son from Chicago to rustic Oregon to oversee a residential development project, only to find the animals of the surrounding forest trying to stop the work by harassing him—“is slightly misguided and might have, like, a doofus bug in him or something. A real touchstone for this character was Dick Van Dyke.”

Not that the character, he added, was easy to play, especially given the physical demands.
“It was a challenge, a leap of faith I wanted to take,” Fraser said, “because Roger [Kumble, the director] is one of the funniest guys that I’ve met. And he understands the architecture of comedy and embraced the character choices we were making, as broad as they are.”

Fraser was also fortunate in having a great stunt man to take some of the hits. “I had a fantastic stunt man. Todd Bryant was great,” Fraser said. “Mostly he took the hard knocks.” The best stunt men, he added, “are conscientious about how the character would do [the stunt]. And luckily he’s one of those guys.”

Shields commented on the questions she and Fraser had about the idea when the script came to them. “How do you make a movie where they’re not going to make the animals talk, where you’re going to give a good message, where you’re going to have characters that actually have a fleshed-out place to go, where you’re not going to have just the perfunctory wife or girlfriend or next-door neighbor or whatever? And then how are you not going to do anything condescending in your humor? Those are the questions that I know I asked and he definitely asked.”

Mention of the critters naturally led to questions about how the actors interacted with the live animals used in the picture. “I did not touch a living creature, nor did she. We got you!” Fraser exclaimed. “We worked with stuffies, primarily—stuffed animals.” Their scenes were then melded with footage of the animals via composites in post-production.

Shields explained, “There were two movies being shot simultaneously. They didn’t want too much interaction [by the animals] with us that might compromise their training. They were on a camp next to the development. We were on the development property that we’d erected there.” That, she said, kept the animal behavior natural. “And you needed the reality of the animals and their relationships—otherwise it becomes just a cartoon.”

“The animals were in charge, basically,” Fraser said, since their actions largely determined the cast’s reactions to them. As to the difficulty of acting against stuffed animals, he noted that it’s something he’s familiar with from all the special-effects pictures he’s made over the years. “You have to believe in what you’re doing,” he said. “It normally just comes down to eye-lines, technically speaking. Then in post everyone else will [believe], and you can composite in whatever the additional element is.” Shields added, “You can’t for a moment wink at the audience or worry about looking silly.”

She explained, “We watch the movie with our kids are see the joy on their faces and think, ‘That’s why I’m doing this.’” And Fraser added, “Come one, come all, because—guess what?—you’re going to have a good time. This is a fun movie.”