Zeppo Marx, the youngest of the five brothers, was very skilled at impersonating his older siblings and occasionally performed in their place when one of them was ill or unavailable. The blackout that occurs when Ravelli and Professor are attempting to steal the painting was contrived so that Zeppo could play Captain Spaulding on a day that Groucho Marx was not on the set. (Zeppo played Spaulding several times during the show's live run; Groucho stated, "he was so good as Captain Spaulding that I would have let him play the part indefinitely, if they had allowed me to smoke in the audience.")
In 1957, Paramount forgot to renew the soundtrack rights which reverted back to the authors of the play (the studio did renew the picture rights, though). As a result the film could not legally be seen in the USA until 1974, when Universal, which had since purchased Paramount's film library, was persuaded by fan requests to re-release it.
When Chico says he recognizes Chandler from somewhere, Chandler replies, dismissively, "Well, after all I'm one of the most well-known men in America. The newspapers will keep on running my photograph." Chico then says, "You're not Abe Kabibble?" "Abe Kabibble" was the full name of the popular comic strip character Abie the Agent, whom the Chandler character resembles.
In the interchange between Spaulding and Ravelli near the end of the film, Spaulding refers to "Chic Sale". Chic Sale was a vaudeville performer well-known to audiences in the Thirties. His name, however, had a parallel meaning. It had become a euphemism for an outhouse. Groucho Marx may have thought the reference as a way around the Hays Office code. The comedian Soupy Hines changed his name to Soupy Sales in honor of the original Sales. His birth name was Milton Supman.
For this film, Harpo Marx switched to a lighter red wig which actually photographed as blonde. In the film, he is referred to as a redhead. He would use the lighter wig in all future The Marx Brothers movies. He went back to the darker red wig for The Story of Mankind (1957) which was filmed in color.
One of over 700 Paramount Productions, filmed between 1929 and 1949, which were sold to MCA/Universal in 1958 for television distribution, and have been owned and controlled by Universal ever since. However, because of legal complications, this particular title was not included in the original television package and was not televised until July 21, 1979, after the rights had been cleared.
Fresh off the success of their previous film, The Cocoanuts (1929), their first, The Marx Brothers had gained the reputation for being a profitable and crowd-pleasing act, but they had also earned the reputation of being a rambunctious and unrestrained troupe during filming. Their nonconformist lifestyle attracted audiences, but proved to be a bit of a headache for Paramount Studios. While filming their first picture, the brothers had showed up late, slept in their dressing rooms, would walk out on filming to play a round of golf, or would call it a day after lunch. Paramount hired director Victor Heerman for this film due to his reputation for being a disciplinarian. The studio hoped that Heerman could extract the comedic magic from the Marx Brothers while also enforcing more professional work habits.
The complete, uncut Animal Crackers, which had only been available for decades in a version cut for the 1936 reissue, was restored from a 35mm duplicate negative held by the British Film Institute and released by Universal Pictures in 2016 in DCP format for theatrical distribution and Blu-ray for home video as part of The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection. The restored edition features an optional commentary track by film historian Jeffrey Vance.
The decision to cast Lillian Roth in this film was in essence a mild rebuke or punishment for the young star. Roth had proven difficult to work with while filming Cecil B. DeMille's Madam Satan (1930), and Paramount head B.P. Schulberg decided to put Roth in this film. Schulberg told Roth "We're sending you back to New York to be kicked in the rear by the Marx Brothers until you learn to behave." The brothers' antics had the intended effect on Roth, who recalled that her experiences working on the film were "one step removed from the circus."
This film is adapted from a stage play by The Marx Brothers by the same name. While filming The Cocoanuts (1929), the brothers would shoot the film in the mornings and act in the Animal Crackers stage play in the evenings.
During a rehearsal a test was made for a color movie process called Multicolor (a predecessor of Cinecolor) and the result was the first known footage of The Marx Brothers in color! The clip is silent and lasts only 15 seconds. The Marx Brothers also appeared in color in the film The Story of Mankind (1957) in which they appeared separately.
One of the few The Marx Brothers movies in which the fact that Chico Marx is obviously not truly Italian is referenced. When Chico is questioning Abie the fish-man (alias Roscoe W. Chandler) about his new identity, Chandler suddenly replies "Say, how did you get to be Italian?"
Zeppo Marx was one of only two of The Marx Brothers to play a recurring role in their films (not counting when they used their own names). He played the role of "Jamison" in both The Cocoanuts (1929) and Animal Crackers.
This film parodies several contemporary plays, most notably when Groucho Marx's character Captain Spaulding has an interior dialogue concerning his marriage proposals to two different women. The scene was meant to lampoon Eugene O'Neill's play "Strange Interlude."
Lillian Roth was not particularly a fan of The Marx Brothers's zany antics, both on and off of the camera, and she was prone to tell exaggerated tales of their escapades to her friends in the film industry. One such such tale involved the brothers being locked in a jail cell to control them between takes. When pushed about the details, Roth eventually conceded that the studio did have a jail cell near the set but that it was a prop from another film and that the crew actually did not need to incarcerate the Marx Brothers between takes for her protection.
Spaulding quips, "we tried to remove the tusks. But they were embedded so firmly we couldn't budge them. Of course, in Alabama the Tuscaloosa, but that is entirely ir-elephant to what I was talking about." This is, of course, a pun, Tuscaloosa being the name of a city in Alabama but also an approximate homophone for "tusks are looser." Tuscaloosa is the location of the main campus of the University of Alabama, which uses an elephant as one of its sports mascots. Over the years, some have inferred that this is the reason for the elephant-related Tuscaloosa reference in Duck Soup, but this is an incorrect assumption. Although there are several conflicting stories about how and when the university was first associated with an elephant mascot, most historical sources say that it came from an October 1930 article by Atlanta Journal sportswriter Everett Strupper--which means that the connection between elephants and UA football postdates both the script for the Animal Crackers stageplay (which had its Broadway premiere in October 1928) and the screenplay for the movie adaptation (which was released in the United States in August 1930).