It was Norway's first computer animated film. Costing in excess of 120 million Norwegian kroner it is the second most expensive Norwegian film to date, behind Max Manus. Several British CGI studios were involved in the production of the film, although the film was mostly a Norwegian production. The voice actors for the original Norwegian version included Kristopher Schau, Jan Sælid, Are&Odin, Egil Birkeland, Terje Ragner, Anders T. Andersen and Mikkel Gaup.
British comedy writer and actor Simon Pegg wrote a screenplay for the wider English-speaking world which was subsequently released straight to DVD on 7 October 2008 by BreakThru Films. The voice actors of the 2008 English-language version is made up of an international ensemble cast that includes Pegg himself, Woody Harrelson, Phil Daniels, Jay Simpson, Jim Broadbent, James Cosmo, David Tennant, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith, Mark Gatiss, Megan Dodds, Douglas Henshall, Kris Marshall, Emilia Fox, Samantha Morton, Kyle MacLachlan and Lisa Maxwell.
The film is dedicated to Joachim Nielsen (1964–2000), the director's brother and a rock musician famous in his native Norway, who had died of a drug overdose after quitting them successfully for many years. Whilst well received in its native country, reception to Free Jimmy has been mixed in the English-speaking world.
The events of the original movie take place entirely in Norway; in the English-language version of the movie, the story begins in Britain, and ends up in Norway with the travelling circus.
At night, an animal testing laboratory in grimy downtown Oslo is broken into by the "urban guerrillas", a group of bumbling, vegan animal rights activists. They first release some rabbits, which refuse to leave. They then set the rats free, then cats, which to the horror of the activists, eat the rats. They then release a small yapping dog which in turn, again to their horror, kills the cats. They bury the dead animals, vowing to at some point take revenge on "animal oppressing" society. One of them, Sonia, a highly-strung, anxiety-stricken woman, keeps the dog and names the dog "Karma".
Meanwhile, three inept stoners and bungling habitual criminals named Odd, Gaz and Flea (Odd, Geir and Kælle in the Norwegian version) sit around in a decrepit apartment, watching the news story about the lab break-in. Their shady American friend Roy Arnie arrives and offers them a once-in-a-lifetime job opportunity with Circus Stromowski, a travelling Russian circus led by Ringmaster Igor Stromowski. The lads agree as they are in debt with Roy Arnie, and it is apparently a good money-raiser, and to escape a local gangster named Ivan. However, upon arriving at the circus, they find Stromowski to be utterly deranged, the acts dangerous, and performers suicidal. The entire circus is full of useless, miserable has-beens and tired animals that will only perform under the influence of narcotics. What's more, the four lads are actually to be animal handlers with the dangerous animals in the circus stable. The star attraction is "Jimmy", a captive large male elephant who is paranoid of police and with an earring and half a tusk sawn off. Roy Arnie gives Jimmy speed to incite the animal to go crazy and perform in the ring for the spectators. At night, he gives Jimmy heroin to sedate him. Soon the elephant becomes addicted.
Roy admits to the others that he has stolen over a million pounds worth of heroin from a tanker owned by the Russian Mafia, and that he joined the circus to escape them. The four lads hatch a plan to smuggle the heroin out of Norway by putting it inside the elephant. Roy makes an incision in Jimmy's buttocks, places the bags of drugs inside, and then sews it back up. He has a plan to set up his own circus with the money he makes from the heroin, the "Roy Arnie Circus", and believes Jimmy to be the key to his dream. However, on the night the lads plan to steal the elephant, Jimmy escapes when he is accidentally given speed instead of heroin, and bolts out of a door left open by the animal rights activists. Jimmy's drug-induced escape causes widespread chaos. Flea comically steals a van with no windshield in the ensuing chase of Jimmy, which leads them up into the frozen moorland.
Three bizarrely-dressed bikers who have been tailing the lads the whole time turn out to be members of the highly feared "Laplander motorcycle gang" who have been hired by the Russians and are looking for the heroin, and revenge on Roy Arnie. After overhearing their conversations they learn of where the drugs are, and decide to first go after the elephant. Meanwhile, the animal rights activists are hot on Jimmy's trail with the intention of rescuing Jimmy. Jimmy is also hunted by a group of trigger-happy, redneck-type Scottish big game hunters (trøndere in the Norwegian version) want to shoot something bigger than a moose or a deer for a change. So begins a mad-cap cross-country road trip to find Jimmy, with each group having different motives. The four stoners crash a log cabin which is occupied by an elderly American couple, but the three Lappish Mafia bikers find them there, kill the couple, and torture the four stoners for information on the whereabouts of Jimmy the elephant.
Jimmy nearly dies on the moors as he begins to go through withdrowal, although a seemingly intelligent and benevolent moose with golden antlers befriends the elephant and attempts to nurse him back to health by nudging him towards water and bringing him grass to eat. The moose pushes Jimmy into a rocky overhang, protecting the elephant from the elements. The moose forces Jimmy to stand on occasion by pushing him up and holding him up with his antlers, bringing back the strength in Jimmy's legs. Over the course of a few painful days, with the moose's help, Jimmy makes a full recovery from the drugs, and again becomes one with nature away from the ugly trappings of man.
When the groups converge on Jimmy's location, chaos ensues which results in most of the people involved getting killed in various ways, mostly violent and bloody. As the elephant and the moose escape into the sunset, the elephant accidentally steps on Sonia the activist's dog, Karma, splatting it. Sonia momentarily loses her temper and picks up one of the hunters' rifles and shoots Jimmy in the behind, unwittingly bursting the bags of heroin inside and causing Jimmy to die quickly of massive drug overdose. This causes Sonia to recoil in horror in what she has done, and she flees amidst nervous breakdown in the knowledge she has harmed an animal. The moose causes a landslide which buries Jimmy's body, and after the moose sits poignantly by the mound of rocks which now entomb the elephant, the moose gallops off into the sunset alone.
The only other survivors of the massacre, the four stoners, do not witness these events, and back at their apartment assault Roy for leading them to the situation in the first place, because of his mad circus dreams, and "for Jimmy", "our mate." Finally, Roy, full of remorse over his actions in the past, wanders out onto the moors alone to look for the elephant, unaware that Jimmy is already dead and entombed under rocks and out of sight. Roy disappears into a terrible blizzard calling out "Jimmy" in vain.
The plot of the English language version of the film remains virtually unchanged to the original in Norwegian. The audio track is dubbed over with English voices, with contemporary British dialogue written by Simon Pegg, and Pegg receives credit in the screenplay. It was released on DVD on 7 October 2008, by BreakThru Films, with Bill Godfrey as Executive Producer.
Unlike the original which was released in cinemas in Norway, Free Jimmy was a direct-to-video release in the English speaking world.
Although only the audio has been changed in the English-language version, the new dialogue makes for some changes to the original Norwegian film. For example, Roy, Odd, Flea and Baz are cockneys from London instead of east enders from Oslo in Norway (that curiously enough has a similar working class type of sociolect as cockneys from east London.). The rest of the film does however still take place in Norway, as the Londoners end up there anyway as they travel with the touring Russian circus. Other significant plot changes are obvious, such as other characters are made British instead of Norwegian, and the redneck-type hunting party are apparently Scottish in the English-language version.
The voice actors of the English-language version make up an international ensemble cast that include:
Free Jimmy is the first computer animated feature film made in Norway, and the film took nine years to make. Several Norwegian companies were involved in the production and distribution, although a significant part of the film was produced in London at Slave Studios, the CGI company owned by animation producer Andy Frain. However, the main company involved in the production was Storm Studio, a Norwegian company.
By January 2004 it was apparent that the total budget would be three times as originally planned, and the premiere was pushed back a year. It became the most expensive film ever made in Norway at the time, until the film Max Manus was produced two years later on a bigger budget.
The lighting and rendering of the movie has been finalised in a Canadian company located in Montreal (Modelink). The entire job took nearly two years to finish and spanned 2004, 2005 and 2006.
The film is dedicated to Joachim Nielsen (1964–2000), the director's brother and a rock musician famous in his native Norway, who had died of a drug overdose after many years of being clean. The director intended the film as an allegory of his brother's life, with the elephant representing his brother, the golden-antlered moose symbolising hope, determination, compassion and inner strength, and the other characters in the story representing outside factors such as prejudice, selfishness, addiction, dependence, manipulation, coercion, peer pressure, weakness and temptation.
In its Norway the film was released in cinemas in 2006, where it was a box office hit making over 200 million Norwegian kroner in profit. However, when the English-language version was released to the wider world in 2008, it was a direct-to-video release.In its native Norway, the film won an Amanda in the category "Best Film" in 2006.
Awarded "Le Cristal du long métrage" at the French Annecy International Animated Film Festival 2007.
The original version of the film was critically well received in its native Norway, and remains something of a cult hit in the country, although this may be tied to the director's cult status in Norway, where he is renowned for his work in comic books. The film successfully portrayed modern Norwegian ironic humor. The film was noted for its animation, and won numerous international awards for it.
However, the later English-language version has received mixed reviews, mostly negative. These include a scathing review by Xan Brooks of The Guardian who described it as "joyless" and those who watch it to be "dumb animals themselves". Many Norwegian fans noted that depth of story was missing in the new version, and that the overall message of the film and the original ironic humor had been lost in translation and the target audience had become unclear. Free Jimmy currently has a "rotten" rating of only 10% on aggregate ratings site Rotten Tomatoes. Free Jimmy currently has 6.1 out of 10 in user ratings on the Internet Movie Database and a three star rating out of five on MSN Movies.
Not all English-language reviews were negative. Derek Adams of Time Out London gave Free Jimmy three out of five stars also, saying: "This adult-orientated, computer-generated animation serves as an impressive antidote to the Disney-Pixar norm."