In a circle of life moment, we met with Disney's Zootopia directors in the same location research for the film began nearly a year earlier, Disney's Animal Kingdom and Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, before they embarked on the trip of a lifetime to Africa that made them say, “If we’re going to do this movie, we’re gonna do it right.”
(Photo credit: Louise Bishop)
See also: Disney Filmmakers Present Zootopia
But there's a story within the film that is much deeper than just another cutesy animal animation. The multi-dimensional film and smart script tackles the important subjects of diversity, tolerance, and acceptance in a manner children and adults alike can relate to, all while keeping the mood of the film light, happy, and fun.
Disney’s Zootopia opens in theatres March 4th, 2016.
Zootopia Directors on Teaching Diversity, Tolerance, and Acceptance
Q: It’s almost like you’ve come full circle in a year. What is the experience like to know that you came here in the beginning and you’re finishing up here?
Byron Howard: This was one of the first places that we came after we pitched the idea of the movie. What we started with is research, as we talk about in a lot of these presentations, and the fact that this company has this amazing animal preserve which is honestly is the best in the world. If you look at the animals, they’re in herds. They’re moving around these amazing environments that feel like real African environments and Asian environments. The fact we could take that real knowledge and these great animal experts and incorporate that knowledge into the film, it was amazing for us.
We went back to LA and we told John Lasseter about our findings here and he said, “That’s amazing! But the next step you guys have to do is to actually go to real Africa,” and he sent us.
Africa was a life changing experience for us all. I think all of us came back honestly changed. We’re very fortunate with these jobs because they send us on terrific places all over Asia, Europe, and South America. But Africa for me, I had never been any place that changed you down to your core.
You’re stepping into an environment that has been the same for 40,000 years. I had only been zoos where I would see two zebra at a time, then just 30 feet away from us were 200 zebra. Or 50,000 wildebeest. 100,000 wildebeest. Being as close to lions as we are to you guys in the front row.
Just to see nature, like full on nature right there, it really made us feel if we’re going to do this movie, we’re gonna do it right. We came home just full of all this information and this great passion
Q: Speaking of diversity, tolerance, and acceptance, how do you tell that story so that it resonates with kids of all ages?
Rich Moore: That was very important to us that this wasn’t just an adult movie playing on some lofty level that a child would say I’m not getting this at all. I don’t relate to it. It was important to us that a child could relate to Judy’s journey, and her as a character.
We knew if this is a story about discrimination and being put in a box by other people, then Judy has to have a moment where that happened to her. That’s why we chose that it was at the hands of a bully when she was young, as a little girl, because unfortunately adults and children can relate to those moments. I think that all of us have had those moments. Some more than others, but it’s relatable.
(Photo credit: Louise Bishop)
Q: Which animal was the hardest or the most difficult to anthropomorph?
Byron Howard: That’s a good question. There were a lot of them that were challenging. Even Judy’s landlord, who’s an armadillo. It was a question of how does that character get her clothes on? Over the shell? Did it have to go over the shell? Does it go over the shell? Does she just kinda look like a strange hunchback? That’s what makes the armadillo.
Q: How did that hilarious DMV scene come about?
Byron Howard: Our head of story, Jim Reardon, said, “How about sloths working for DMV? That could be a funny scene.” It was one of these things where everyone was quiet for a moment and thought, has this been done before? It seems like such an obvious joke or situation.
It’s keeping it on a level of that a child. To them they’re watching Judy who’s in a hurry at the mercy of a sloth who’s slow, but for the adult, it’s like, oh, yeah.
Q: Speaking about the sloths, how did you approach Kristen Bell knowing she loves sloths.
Byron Howard: We’re talking with our casting director, James Roberts, and we were talking about how do you go to someone like Kristen Bell and present this idea to her, “Will you do one line that is literally words?” Two words?
Jamie said, why don’t I just text her? Right now. She literally did. “Kristen, would you like to play a sloth that has one line in the movie?” Then five minutes later, we were talking about something else, and Jamie said, “Oh, by the way, Kristen just texted back. She’s in.”
(Photo credit: Louise Bishop)
Q: The film is really multi-dimensional and the script is really, really smart. What made you really want to appeal on so many levels?
Byron Howard: We tried to include as many of the audience as possible, because we’re adults making these movies. We’re children inside. The kids aren’t necessarily going to laugh at the Breaking Bad reference or the Godfather reference, but the adults get it. It’s funny, because when Rich and I watch audiences see the film, we can predict when the adults will laugh and when the kids will laugh.
On a personal level, that’s what I loved growing up. Shows or movies or cartoons or books where I knew I was enjoying it, but I knew my brother was getting it on some level and that my parents were laughing at something. It made me feel like, well, someday I’ll get that. Whatever it is that they’re getting but I’m getting my thing.
Then as an adult to go to movies with my kids, when the filmmakers were giving my children something that didn’t feel like they were speaking down to me or down to my kids, that there was something in it for me too. I’m just always like that. Everything I’ve ever worked on in my career, I always try to give service to everyone in the audience, not just one group of people.
The modern mammal metropolis of Zootopia is a city like no other. Comprised of habitat neighborhoods like ritzy Sahara Square and frigid Tundratown, it’s a melting pot where animals from every environment live together—a place where no matter what you are, from the biggest elephant to the smallest shrew, you can be anything.
But when rookie Officer Judy Hopps (voice of Ginnifer Goodwin) arrives, she discovers that being the first bunny on a police force of big, tough animals isn’t so easy. Determined to prove herself, she jumps at the opportunity to crack a case, even if it means partnering with a fast-talking, scam-artist fox, Nick Wilde (voice of Jason Bateman), to solve the mystery.
Portions of this material and expenses for this trip have been provided by Walt Disney Studios.