When the children first meet Count Olaf and Jim Carrey says, "Wait, give me that last line again," was not actually in the script, it was Carrey staying in character and wanting to try it again, but they kept the cameras rolling and felt it worked the way it happened.
Tim Burton was attached to direct at some point, with Johnny Depp playing Count Olaf and Glenn Close playing Aunt Josephine. When Tim Burton left the project, Johnny Depp left as well. Brad Silberling replaced Glenn Close, feeling that Meryl Streep would be better for the role. Streep accepted the role of Aunt Josephine upon the request of her daughter, a huge fan of the books.
During production, Liam Aiken grew four and a half inches (11.4 cm), requiring adjustments to his costume throughout. By the end of the movie, he is visibly taller than Emily Browning who portrayed his older sister.
After scouring ballet schools looking for a girl to play Violet Baudelaire, the casting director was exercising at the gym when she spotted Emily Browning on television, and decided to get her for an audition.
Originally, Brad Silberling wanted Sunny to be pure CGI. While he eventually used real babies for the part, at least four of Sunny's scenes have a CG baby because they would be impossible or dangerous for a real child to do. Among these are shots of Sunny hanging on to a table by her teeth, and catching a spindle with her mouth, and the scene where she is entangled with the Incredibly Deadly Viper.
Triplets were originally cast to play the role of Sunny Baudelaire. But when the trio developed stage fright and separation anxiety and would do nothing but cry, they were replaced by twins Shelby Hoffman and Kara Hoffman.
The beginning of the film features a false-start opening sequence called "The Littlest Elf". The sequence was created in CGI, but designed to resemble the stop-motion animated children's specials common in the 1960s and '70s, most famously by Rankin-Bass.
Each Baudelaire orphan has one major difference between their movie costume and flaw in their wardrobe as described in the books. Klaus in the books is nearly blind without his glasses while, in the movie they are only needed for reading. Sunny in the books hated wearing a pink dress, but in the film her dress had a lot of pink in it. Violet in the book was unable to put braids in her hair because they would not stay together, but in the movie she has braids nearly the entire time.
The duck that nearly gets a stove dropped onto it is well known to American audiences as the Aflac Duck. He's the mascot for the American insurance company Aflac. Their ads feature a pair of people discussing Aflac insurance, but being unable to remember the company's name while he tries to shout it out but simply sounds like a quacking duck. Paramount and Aflac also ran a series of movie tie-in ads.
Some of the chores seen on the list of chores given to the Baudelaires by Count Olaf: 1. Fix the rear porch so it is back to code, 2. Dust and clean all the very important pictures of myself, 3. Clean the staircase, 4. Reupholster the living room sofa, 5. Dust and polish the wood furniture throughout the house, 6. Do all the laundry and make sure you separate the whites, the colors, and the polyesters (make sure to take special care with my costumes and delicate), 7. Iron all the clothes, 8. Sew buttons on clothes that are missing them, 9. Clean mirrors above my makeup table taking care that there are no streaks, 10. Wash the steps on the porch, 11. Prune trees in the front yard, and not to mention, 12. Prepare a delicious dinner for myself and my troupe.
When Klaus finds a spy-glass in his father's desk, there is a box of green cigarettes lying beside it, labelled VFD. This is a reference to the book series (specifically Book the Tenth), in which Sunny uses Verdant Flammable Devices (mistaken for green cigarettes) to signal her siblings. Book the Tenth also mentions that the Baudelaires' father had the same devices hidden in his desk.
The film had a sequel planned, but sadly never got off the ground, even though Jim Carrey was on board from the beginning. The movie would later be rebooted into a Netflix series with Neil Patrick Harris taking on the role of "Count Olaf."
Director Brad Silberling admitted on the director's commentary that in some scenes the stand-ins for Kara Hoffman and Shelby Hoffman, the Knight babies, often appeared on camera instead of the original twins (but with their faces covered slightly).
Two weeks before the end of shooting, DP Emmanuel Lubezki had to leave due to work commitments for the upcoming movie The New World (2005). 'Robert Yeoman' was brought in for a shot in the last half of the third act (The Wide Window). Yeoman was given a special thanks in the credits.
In the train scene, the back window of Count Olaf's car has a bobble head doll decoration. The doll is a replica of The Littlest Elf, which was introduced in the false-start sequence at the beginning of the film. Sunny subsequently cannibalizes the Littlest Elf's head and Violet incorporates it into her train track switch invention.
When Count Olaf locks the orphans in the car, you can briefly see the words, "Last Chance" painted on the slanted roof. The Last Chance General Store was featured in the eighth book, "The Hostile Hospital".
The bizarre car seen in the previews is a Tatra 603. Built in the present-day Czech Republic, it was designed as a limousine for Communist Party officials and VIPs. It was first designed in 1955; the model in the previews is from 1968-1975.
The strange, menacing-looking engine in the railroad crossing scene very strongly resembles Pennsylvania T-1 4-4-4-4, an experimental engine built in 1942 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works, and used exclusively by the Pennsylvania Railroad. All of the real T-1's were sold for scrap by the early 1950s.
In the stairwell where we first meet Count Olaf, there is a portrait of Olaf in Shakespearian garb, reaching out with his hand. This is almost an exact duplicate of a picture of John Barrymore playing "Hamlet".
Because the train scene was filmed on a forced-perspective set, Industrial Light & Magic did something called "lattice deformations "to squeeze the computer-generated train (including the smoke) onto the forced-perspective tracks.
Early in pre-production, Scott Rudin was attached to produce this movie, with Barry Sonnenfeld as director. Rudin later left the project over "budgetary conflicts", and Sonnenfeld left soon after. However, both are still credited as executive producers.
According to the illustrations in the original books, Violet wears a dress with the V-cuffed lower sleeves (a very common attire in space operas), Klaus wears a sweater with a button-down shirt underneath, and Sunny wears a small dress. The orphans' costumes in the movie are noticeably different.
While discussing the importance of grammar, Captain Sham tells Aunt Josephine, "It's the whole ball of wax, the entire kit and kaboodle." In The Truman Show (1998), Jim Carrey used these same phrases while making purchases at a newspaper stand. In two different scenes, the salesman asks "Will that be all for you, Truman?" And in each scene, he replies with one of those two phrases.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Violet tries to sign the marriage document with her left hand and Count Olaf says "Right hand please". This is a reference to the book in which Violet does sign the document with her left hand, after which Justice Stauss declares the marriage invalid since she did not sign it in her "own hand".
Brad Silberling describes the end credits as the Baudelaire children's dream (as they were sleeping in the last scene) of restless pursuit of Count Olaf. He also admits that the animations for the credits were finished one week before the movie's premiere.
The train scene is full of cameos from the books. First, the store is the 'Last Chance', as seen in Book 8, the Hostile Hospital. The man working there is reading the newspaper 'The Daily Punctillio", as seen in Book 7, the Vile Village, and on. Also, the headline reads 'Orphans to Blame', which is in the books as well. The window of the Last Chance advertises 'Parsley Soda', as seen in Book 6, the Ersatz Elevator. Finally, the magazine Olaf reads advertises a Veritably French Diner, which has the mysterious initials V.F.D.
When looking at Aunt Josephine's photo album, the Baudelaires stumble across a picture of the society their parents and family members were a part of. In the top right-hand side of the picture, a person's face is partially blurred out, though the appearance seems to be that of Count Olaf.
The book's ending of "The Wide Window" is as follows: after rescuing the orphans from the leeches (and drowning Aunt Josephine), Count Olaf, still disguised as Captain Sham, would return to the dock, where Mr. Poe and the person of indeterminable gender are waiting. Olaf seems to have won, but Sunny bites his peg leg with great force, causing it to crack open and reveal his real leg. Mr. Poe would then stand up to Olaf, but the villain quickly runs away with his henchman, leaving Poe and the Baudelaires locked up behind them.
In the car scene, Count Olaf is in the "Last Chance General Store". He is holding up a newspaper to his face, The back of the paper reads "Veritable French Diner." This can be shortened as 'VFD', the secret organization used as a McGuffin throughout the book series.
Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki chose a specific color palette backdrop for the major locations in the film: Count Olaf's house (The Bad Beginning) uses green, black and gray Uncle Monty's house (The Reptile Room) uses green, brown and yellow Aunt Josephine's House (The Wide Window) uses blue and black.
The eye is the symbol of the VFD, the secret organization in the "Series of Unfortunate Events" saga whose members include Count Olaf, Uncle Monty, Aunt Josephine, and the Baudelaire children's parents. The eye symbol appears in various locations all over the film, especially in Count Olaf's mansion.
Spyglasses and circular windows are also symbols associated with the VFD that appear in this film; the spyglass would go on to appear in A Series of Unfortunate Events (2017).