"I've always loved physical comedy and putting something physical into all the movies we do," James told United Press International at a recent press conference in New York.
"I loved Jackie Gleason," he said. "Anyone who was kind of big and could move, I like a lot. But these guys were great with the physical comedy, as well.
"I was surprised and a little pissed off, I've got to be honest, that when you bring in such great actresses you know you're getting that, but when they're funnier than you, that annoys you," he joked. "They're very agile. Bendy."
"That was a job requirement, being bendy," quipped Bibb, who was sitting beside James and Dawson on the panel and talking to reporters.
In the film, James plays Griffin, a kindhearted zookeeper who discovers his animal friends can speak and use their extraordinary powers to advise him on how to win back his shallow ex-girlfriend Stephanie, played by Bibb, who is, in turn, being pursued by her hot-tempered former flame Gale, played by Joe Rogan. Dawson plays Kate, the earthy co-worker who is quietly pining for Griffin even as she tries to help him court Stephanie because he thinks it will make him happy. Lending their voices to various animals at the zoo are Cher, Sylvester Stallone, Adam Sandler and Nick Nolte.
Dawson said one of her favorite scenes to shoot took place at a wedding reception during which guests Stephanie and Gale set the dance floor on fire with their stunning moves.
After initially trying to compete with them, Griffin and Kate ultimately give up and decide to have some fun of their own by swinging on the fluttery silk drapes hanging from the ceiling of the elegant ballroom. Mayhem quickly ensues.
"I was so glad to make it as a ridiculous as possible because Leslie and Joe were working on this dance and we would go to rehearsals and watch them do this dance and it was just getting better and better and better," recalled Dawson, who has also appeared in "Seven Pounds," "Men in Black II" and "Rent."
"During their rehearsals, all of a sudden, it would be like [Leslie and Joe] were flying and there were just all these incredibly structured moves. Really powerful stuff and then [James and I] were like, 'OK, what are we going to do?' So the better and better they got, the more and more we were like, 'Well, we could also do this thing where I spin you around and you fall over this,'" Dawson explained. "It just made us go the exact opposite way. ... It was wonderful to have an opportunity to do that type of physical comedy in this and just be as ridiculous as possible in a great dress and high heels and go, 'Forget it.' It was amazing."
"Any time I do that sweet stuff, I always feel uncomfortable in the moment, so have to make it ridiculous," James admitted. "So we kind of make it spin out of control and get a little nutty with it. ... But it was a fun, unique way to show us connecting and show Stephanie noticing, 'Well, maybe I don't need her at this moment and I'm having fun without her.' It was pretty cool."
James, who starred in the long-running sitcom "The King of Queens," as well as in the films "Hitch," "Grown Ups" and "Paul Blart: Mall Cop," said he hopes "Zookeeper" gets laughs from audience members of all ages.
"We just wanted this to be a funny, funny movie for everybody, honestly, where you can feel comfortable with your kids," James emphasized. "I've gone to movies with my kids and I'm bored out of my skull sometimes because there's just no comedy or anything for adults. So I wanted something where it just had comedy for everybody. There are parts of this movie where there are no animals, obviously, and where we go out and we're in the real world and where it's moving fast and that's why I started getting really excited about it."
"Zookeeper" was No. 3 at the box office when it opened last weekend.