Speed Racer (2008)

After Rex Racer dies in a freak racing accident, younger brother Speed (Emile Hirsch), who lives and breathes racing, grows up to dominate the field. But when immoral racing moguls and cheating racers try to sabotage Speed's racing career, he and his family fight to clean up the racing industry.

  Animal Action

Poster for Speed Racer
Speed Racer
Release Date: May 7, 2008

The Chimp

Speed’s younger brother Spritle (Paulie Litt) has a pet chimp named Chim-Chim, who appears throughout the film. Two chimps named Kenzy and Willie were alternated for the role of Chim-Chim. Any actor who held the chimp was given special instructions on his handling, and trainers stood nearby during the action. When Chim-Chim is performing mild action, such as sitting at the kitchen table or on the couch, sunbathing in a lounge chair, making noises, putting his hands over his eyes, mimicking karate moves or getting into a chair, trainers stood just off-camera and cued him with verbal commands and hand signals. For lighting and staging set-ups, a prop chimp was used. Whenever Chim-Chim gets excited and jumps, claps, points or waves, trainers verbally cued him in an energetic tone to perform those actions. Whenever he jumps on a piece of furniture, stunt pads were placed on the furniture. For certain scenes, the trainer tied a monofilament safety line to the chimp’s waist and held the other end. During longer scenes in which the chimp stood by as people talked, the chimp was placed in front of a green screen by himself without the human actors present and was filmed performing his mild action for only a few minutes. The actors were added in post-production and the chimp’s role was extended using the few minutes of green-screen footage. For many of the scenes involving Chim-Chim and Spritle, the chimp and the child actor were filmed separately and were not in the same room. When Chim-Chim jumps over the back of the breakfast nook during the earthquake (which was an effect added in post-production) or jumps over the couch, the trainer set the chimp on top of the furniture piece and cued him to jump to another trainer, who was hiding behind the furniture. Whenever the chimp is wearing clothing, the costumes were custom-made and comfortable, and the chimp was accustomed to wearing the items. When Chim-Chim is seen eating food, the food was safe for consumption and the amount eaten was limited.

Trainers in costume were sitting in the stands during the racing scenes. The cheering was mimed and sound was added in later. Trainers taught the chimp during rehearsal to hold binoculars and the chimp was filmed in the stands alone — the fans were digitally added in later.

The scene in which the family rides on the airplane was filmed in a stationary mock interior of a jet on a secured, locked indoor set. A green screen was used for the view outside the windows. The trainer placed the chimp on his mark on the airplane seat and instructed him to get up and “go eat” candy in candy bins.

Anytime the chimp is seen in what appears to be a moving vehicle, the vehicle was stationary in front of a green screen and the trainers cued the chimp to stay on his mark. When the chimp is riding with the family on a golf cart, the trainer placed him between the boy and the mechanic. During rehearsal, the trainer gave the chimp toys and games to entertain him while he got accustomed to the golf cart’s movements and sounds. By the time cameras were rolling, the chimp was having fun in the golf cart. While the family rode in the cart, the off-camera trainer used a tennis ball on a stick to elicit certain looks from the chimp. The scene was filmed in front of a green screen on a special stationary contraption that gave the appearance of forward movement. For the scene in which Chim-Chim is seen inside the helicopter, trainers buckled him in to the stationary prop helicopter and verbally cued him to react in certain ways.

When Spritle and Chim-Chim, wearing ski masks, break into candy bins, the chimp was cued to eat a small amount of candy and later to lie on the ground motionless, as if passed out. The chimp was filmed in a split screen, separately from the boy, and some green-screen effects were used.

Chim-Chim drives a golf cart, knocking people over. For this scene, the people and the background were digitally added in post-production. Moments later, he is standing on the steering wheel, steering with his feet until he falls off and out of camera frame. For the first part of this scene, trainers placed the chimp in the stationary cart and positioned his hands on the wheel. They cued him to steer by pantomiming the steering motion just off-camera and instructing him to mimic them. When Chim-Chim stands on the steering wheel, trainers securely placed his feet on the wheel and cued him to slowly move his body back and forth for a few seconds. After a couple of takes, the chimp was swiveling faster. Performing this action was fun for him, so he appeared excited on the screen. After a few seconds of the foot-steering action, he jumped off and his trainers retrieved him.

When Chim-Chim appears to be sitting on the shoulders of the boy, who is hiding underneath a trench coat, the chimp was actually placed on a trainer’s shoulders. The trench coat was then wrapped around the trainer, hiding him, and the chimp’s head was the only thing showing through the coat. The trainer held the chimp in position for this mild action. For the close-up shot, a special backpack rig on a tripod was secured to the hidden trainer. Another trainer placed the chimp onto the backpack contraption and had him hold on to its bar before wrapping the trench coat around the chimp and the contraption. Trainers stood one foot away during this brief take.

A large security guard dangles Chim-Chim by his suspenders with one hand and holds Spritle by his collar with the other hand. The actor playing the guard rehearsed this scene for several days using a prop chimp and was extremely comfortable with the action. During the filming with the live chimp, the trainer placed the chimp next to the actor, and the actor gently and securely hoisted the chimp by his suspenders and walked a few feet forward.

The scene in which Chim-Chim jumps off the couch, flying across the room to attack a ninja was filmed in separate shots. After extensive rehearsals, trainers gently tossed the chimp a few feet onto a stunt pad. For another angle, two trainers held the chimp by his arm and rear end and gently tossed him toward a third trainer, who caught him. For the part of the scene in which the chimp attacks the ninja’s leg, a costumed trainer stood in for the ninja. Another trainer positioned the chimp onto the costumed trainer’s ankle and cued him to hug it.

For scenes in which Spritle and Chim-Chim are seen in the trunk of the Mach 5, the bottom was removed from the trunk and it contained a custom-made rubber seat for the chimp to sit on. The trunk lid was never closed while the chimp was inside. After Chim-Chim and Spritle pop out of the car’s trunk, Chim-Chim appears to toss feces at a man. This scene was filmed in separate shots in front of a green screen. A trainer hid next to the chimp in the back of the trunk. The trunk lid was kept open a few inches, and upon filming, the hidden trainer cued the chimp to pop the trunk up and emerge excitedly. For the throwing of the feces, trainers placed the chimp standing up in the trunk, handed him a stick and stood nearby to cue him to stay. They then cued him to throw the stick, which was digitally replaced in post-production with computer-generated feces.

When Chim-Chim appears to attack one of the bad guys with a wrench, a costumed trainer held the chimp to his chest in a choreographed motion, as if dancing with the chimp, and then cued the chimp to hit him with the wrench. For the part of the scene in which the chimp sat on the bad guy’s back and hit him with a wrench, trainers placed the chimp on the back of the actor, who lay on the ground, and cued him to hit the actor in the head. The wrench was made of foam rubber. For the part of this scene in which Chim-Chim tosses a gun, an off-camera trainer slid the chimp the fake gun and cued him to toss it.

An image of Chim-Chim spinning on a chain is superimposed over a racing scene. For this very brief green-screen scene, trainers positioned the chimp’s feet into large, comfortable chains that were hanging securely from the ceiling. Trainers then cued him to stay while they slowly swung the chains for a few seconds. For another take, trainers repositioned his feet onto the chains and held the bottom link of the dangling chains, briefly spinning them around.

The Hamster and Rat

For the very brief shot of the hamster running in the exercise wheel, a rat served as a stand-in for lighting and set-up. Using a clicker, a trainer cued the well-trained rat to run and rewarded it with cheese. Moments before filming, a hamster in a smaller wheel was brought in to replace the rat. The trainer used a carrot on a stick to get the hamster to run. The rat and hamster were only cued to run for a few seconds for this scene.

The Snake

A snake charmer plays a flute to bring a snake out of a basket. A highly experienced snake handler stood near the actress. The costumed snake handler placed a cobra in a basket and used a snake hook to lift the snake up while the actress pantomimed playing a flute. The snake was kept a safe distance from the actors and the controlled gas flames in the background.

The Fish

Live koi carp and piranha were briefly filmed to obtain establishing shots for the green-screen aquarium shots.


Rating Information

During the filming of this production in Germany, the piranhas were acquired from a local supplier of fish. Although the professionals who supplied the fish set up the tank and were in charge of maintaining the tank while on the set, five of the piranhas died. After a veterinary necropsy examination, the exact cause of death could not be determined. Although American Humane does not believe intentional mistreatment was a factor, the death of the fish contributed to the rating of the film.

Filming involved two chimps, ages 2 and 3, that were used interchangeably to portray the one character, Chim-Chim. The primary character with whom the animal interacts is Spritle, the young brother of Speed Racer. A report from the American Humane Animal Safety Representative noted that early into production, the younger chimp bit the arm of the stand-in for the actor playing Spritle. The bite did not break the skin, but did leave a bruise. The chimp was removed from the set and given a long rest period. The boy was examined and treated by the set medic. According to the Safety Representative, the animal did not display any aggression, nor did it give any warning prior to the sudden bite which occurred just as the chimp was being seated next to the actor.

In response to this incident, production went to great effort and expense to provide safe working conditions for both the animals and the young performers. The action between the young boy and the chimp was filmed primarily against a green screen so that the animals and the child could be filmed separately from each other. Both the production team and Warner Bros. were responsive to American Humane considerations and expected all trainers and production personnel to abide by the Guidelines for the Safe Use of Animals in Filmed Media, which include guidelines that specifically address the safe use of primates.

Unfortunately, toward the end of filming, during a training session in the presence of the American Humane Representative, the trainer, in an uncontrolled impulse, hit the chimpanzee. The American Humane Representative stopped the session immediately, notified production and demanded the trainer be reprimanded and that the trainers abide by their written assurance that only positive reinforcement training techniques be used with the chimpanzees. This trainer’s action was in violation of American Humane Guidelines and a signed agreement with the production. The animal was not injured, but American Humane finds this to be completely inexcusable and unacceptable behavior in the use of any animal. Although this incident did not occur during the course of filming, primates should be worked using only acceptable training methods incorporating positive reinforcement. No animal should be physically punished in the process of training, management or performance. Warner Bros. takes this incident seriously and does not condone this unacceptable act by the trainer.

Although American Humane monitored the animal action in the film, the aforementioned training incident tarnishes the excellent work of the rest of production. The Unacceptable rating relates specifically to the individual’s breach of the studio mandate to treat the animals humanely at all times and the flagrant violation of American Humane’s Guidelines. American Humane finds the actions of the trainer regarding the physical punishment of the chimp to be unacceptable and has no method of separating the actions of one individual in the employ of a production from the production as a whole.