Legendary actor W.C. Fields said “Never work with children and animals” because of their unpredictable nature in showbusiness. But filmmakers who worked on the 1989 Christmas movie Prancer ignored that adage and faced two huge challenges when they worked with a real reindeer and children.
Actor Rebecca Harrell Tickell, who commanded the starring role of Jessica in Prancer was fully aware that producers were on edge, worried about some of the changes that could occur during filming.
‘Prancer’ filmmakers worried about 2 big changes during filming
Prancer filmmakers used a real reindeer because computer-generated imagery (CGI) was yet to be fully realized. “So there was a real reindeer, her name was Boo,” Tickell recalled to Showbiz Cheat Sheet. “She was pregnant and they chose Boo because pregnant reindeer keep their antlers longer. And as predicted, we ended up running over schedule.”
“The day after we stopped filming, Prancer Boo lost her antlers,” she said. “There were so many things we were afraid of. One was that I was going to lose my front tooth because it was barely hanging on by a thread. And two were the antlers and that Boo was going to either give birth or shed her antlers. And then, continuity for the film would be a real problem.”
‘Prancer’ had a stunt double – a reindeer head
Tickell recalled having a sweet connection with Boo from the beginning. “So I had a meeting with Boo in the very beginning, and right off the bat she and I hit it off. I loved Boo. Boo loved me,” she recalled. “She would let me touch her and hold her … walk with her on the lead. And she and I always had a really great relationship, even though she was under really stressful circumstances, looking back, now as an adult on that situation. But she and I did great.”
“We also had a fake reindeer head that was used like a puppet,” she said. “And so when I was sitting down reading to Prancer, they would actually bring Prancer in. And I would read to the real Prancer, but then they would take Prancer out, and they would set up this mechanical puppet. I would then do the scene again with a mechanical puppet. And you can really tell if you look closely at the film.”
“But that was a real deer and I was feeding her,” she said. “There were a lot of people who were very nervous about the amount of stunts that I was doing and also working with this live animal. But I loved every second of it. My mom was very open about it, so we weren’t being too rigid about my participation in it.”
“But at one point Boo did actually kind of lose it on set during one of the scenes and she bucked one of the grip’s backs and he was injured pretty badly, by Boo. But it didn’t faze me. I kept working with her and leading her around and it was fine.”
The biggest obstacle in making ‘Prancer’ were the temperatures
Tickell also managed to keep her tooth in place for the entirety of the filming. “I kept my tooth until the very end,” she said. “And then after that, they were all gone. They were talking about putting in a prosthetic tooth. I had to go to the orthodontist.”
“They were ready on standby in case that tooth fell out. Because we would work until two, three in the morning sometimes, and then our call would be at four or five a.m. And I was in every scene, but I think three scenes in the film. We were constantly at work, so there wouldn’t really have been time for me to go off to an orthodontist and have a whole implant put in. So we were being super mindful of the time.”
While Tickell’s precarious tooth and the reindeer were a challenge, the weather was the biggest issue during filming.
“The biggest obstacle was the cold,” she recalled. “The cold weather was sometimes 42 below zero with the wind chill factor. And I just remember my hands wouldn’t work. I tried to open a latch and I just couldn’t do it. Take after take. I just couldn’t open the door anymore. My body just wouldn’t function.”
“Jessica had not as nice warm clothes. Ariana Richards, who played her best friend, she’s supposed to come from a wealthier family. So she had a warmer jacket and she had warmer mittens and a warmer hat,” she pointed out. “My character, who’s not supposed to have a mom who’s supposed to come from a poor family, unfortunately, my wardrobe reflected that. And so I was out there in the cold and not properly dressed. And that was, looking back on all of the work and all of the most challenging moments, it was definitely difficult.”