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The world of oscar-nominated ‘Puss in Boots‘ is populated by twisted nursery-rhyme characters, but few are as twisted as Puss’ former friend, Humpty Dumpty.
When our story begins, Puss is an orphan growing up in the small village of San Ricardo where he befriends a somewhat odd (and oddly shaped) fellow. Per director Chris Miller: “Puss would listen to Humpty’s dreams, he had all these plans, but at the end of the day, he’s just an egg.
He can barely move around; he doesn’t have the facility to really accomplish any of his goals. He was picked on and a bit of an outsider, and Puss protected him and always stood up for him. So you have Humpty the dreamer and Puss, who helps facilitate the dreams.”
They both dream of leaving the orphanage for a better life — all they need is a few magic beans to grow into a beanstalk so they can steal a fabled goose that lays golden eggs from a giant’s castle in the clouds. Simple, really. The childhood search for the fabled beans turns up nothing, so the childish dream begins to recede…for Puss, at least, and the two begin to drift apart.
It isn’t long before the cat of action finds his true calling, when he selflessly rescues a woman from the path of a charging bull. San Ricardo quickly bestows the title of hero to Puss, which earns him his debonair hat and legendary boots (meant to stand for truth, honor and courage).
As with many duos in lore and history, once one achieves fame and fortune, jealousy is quick to follow. So when Puss agrees to help Humpty in a joint venture that goes awry (all in the name of saving their friendship,) the two are set on separate paths with quite different goals. Puss, becomes a presumed traitor to his village and everyone who trusted him, and Humpty Dumpty, becomes a bad egg, whose childhood dreams turn to thoughts of personal gain and revenge.
Not exactly the stuff of nursery rhymes, but that’s the way Chris Miller wanted it: “Humpty Dumpty is very different from what you’ve heard before — I think what we do best is take things that you think you know and push the character in a new direction, while visually trying to create something that we’ve never seen before. That is what really excites us as animation filmmakers.”
Head of story Persichetti jokes, “Doesn’t every cat have an egg for a brother? When we started working on these characters, we knew Puss needed someone to grow up with and be his foil. We thought, ‘Wow, what if he had an egg for a brother?’ It started off as a little germ like that and just took root and spread.”
Miller says, “Humpty Alexander Dumpty is played by Zach Galifianakis, and I think Zach is pretty extraordinary in the role. I love his performance; he’s incredibly funny, and his sharp extemporaneous wit is really appealing. My favorite thing about Zach in this role is the unexpected edge he brought to it.
Humpty is a bit of a damaged character, sort of broken, and he’s up to no good in a portion of the movie, but Zach brought this rationale for it: Humpty felt he was losing his best friend, which caused him to act a little funny in the head — but his heart was definitely in the right place.”
Latifa Ouaou: “We knew Zach was hilarious, but what he brought to the character of Humpty Dumpty was a vulnerability and a childlike sweetness that really made the villain multi-dimensional. You empathize with him, and that was important to us; we didn’t want him to be a black-and-white villain.”
For the comic performer, one of the challenges lay in the restrictions of the art of voicing a character. Galifianakis says, “I think one of the toughest things was trying to figure out a character with only a voice. When you start, they show you a mock-up of what the character looks like so far. And then, you have to find an attitude, and you’re limited to just using your voice.
Once the animators see you performing, like if I use my hands during a certain part, they’ll throw those in. But you really have to dig for more expression in your voice than maybe an actor would in a regular, live-action role.”
Ouaou recalls, “When we first started, we explained, ‘Yes, you’re an egg,’ and we told him that he works from the script, but that there would be changes, because we develop and produce the movie at the same time. We also wanted him to be free to work off-script. Zach really trusted Chris and just allowed Chris to guide him.
The more familiar he got with the character, the more comfortable he felt in the material, the more he started bringing his own ideas to the sessions and improvising — which is always better for the actor, for us and for the character in the end.”
Galifianakis met the “one man in a booth with a microphone” challenge head-on: “I really like the simplicity of it. I come from a standup comic background, so I’m used to that microphone and just expressing myself. That’s what I really do like about it. I remember, whenever I would leave a session, I would always think to myself, ‘This really is a great job.’ Plus the character’s been fun to explore, that kind of looseness, he’s all over the place. I’m pretty reserved as a person, so it’s fun to come in and do this ‘all-over-the-place’ kind of character.”
He also jokes, “Did I think how an egg would be? Did I research? Hmm. I should have gone to aisle seven at the grocery store and hung out with eggs, got to know them, talk to them. But, I’ve eaten eggs. I’ve thrown eggs at people that are loud on the street at two in the morning in my neighborhood.
Now that I think about it, eggs are taken advantage of in life, I think, because people eat them, they throw them—they can go bad or be deviled. Eggs are just kind of funny in general, they’re that funny shape, they’re kind of disrespected. I think this movie proves that, and maybe it will bring light to the way that eggs have been treated. Or not.”