As Thanksgiving nears, we’re revisiting The Andy Griffith Show star Don Knotts‘ last movie role, which is more than appropriate for the holiday season since he voiced a cartoon turkey.
Knotts starred as Mayor Turkey Lurkey in Disney’s 2005 animated film Chicken Little. It ended up being the comedic actor’s final movie of his decades-long Hollywood career. But it couldn’t have been a more fitting role for his last major motion picture.
In fact, the movie’s creators specifically wrote the role of the mayoral turkey for Knotts. Mayor Turkey Lurkey mirrored his famous portrayal of Barney Fife from The Andy Griffith Show. Likewise, the turkey fumbled over his words and sported a worried face most of the time. Additionally, he’s the last individual you’d want in charge of an emergency situation. Sound familiar? It should for anyone who watched Deputy Fife police the town of Mayberry.
The same year Chicken Little came out, the movie’s supervising animator spoke about Knotts’ contributions to the film. While speaking to The Province in 2005, animator Dick Zondag talked about developing the role for Knotts.
“When I get assigned these characters the first thing I’ll do is sit down with the director and have a very long chat about it. Find out exactly what he’s looking for character-wise,” Zondag explained. “And I’ll prod him with questions, and he’ll try to answer them to the best he can.”
While speaking with Chicken Little director Mark Dindal, the director shared his vision for Mayor Turkey Lurkey. He told Zondag that the role should be “like Don Knotts.”
“I’m a huge Don Knotts fan, actually,” Zondag said. “It’s not just that he wants Don Knotts – he wants Don Knotts from The Ghost and Mr. Chicken or the Barney Fife Don Knotts.”
‘The Andy Griffith Show’ Star’s Former Characters Helped Form His Mayor Turkey Lurkey Role
Mayor Turkey Lurkey may have been created specifically for Don Knotts, but the animator still had to do plenty of research to get it right. Dick Zondag revisited some of Knotts’ most famous roles. He rewatched The Andy Griffith Show and many of his early movies to pinpoint the intricacies of his performances.
“I go and take whatever film clips I can and study them like crazy,” Zondag said. “With that in mind, then I’ll go and build things that I think are like what that character will do. And some of them are exaggerated and over-the-top, because at the end of the day, it’s still a cartoon.”
Sadly, the same year Chicken Little was released, doctors diagnosed Knotts with lung cancer. He hid the diagnosis so that he could continue working as he took a few more bit roles on television. However, his health took a turn for the worst in early 2006, and The Andy Griffith Show star passed away on February 24. So this Thanksgiving, we salute Mayor Turkey Lurkey and Don Knotts’ storied Hollywood career.