In a warehouse in North Hollywood, something interesting has been happening. There, behind the bland and unassuming exterior, Walt Disney Animation Studios has sprung to life in a temporary location that once housed the Disney Imagineering department – the result of a massive renovation taking place at the famed Roy E. Disney Animation Building in Burbank. Within the largely open space, work continued through late January on ZOOTOPIA, the 55th feature from the studio, and one that’s been gaining fans well before release – due in large part to a slow-moving sloth with a really big smile. After meeting with Directors Byron Howard (BOLT, TANGLED) and Rich Moore (WRECK-IT RALPH), along with Producer Clark Spencer (WINNIE THE POOH) for a sneak-preview over at the Disney Studios lot, I was invited to take a closer look at the development of the film with some of the key players behind-the-scenes.
A Story Safari: Writer and Co-Director Jared Bush, Writer Phil Johnston, Co-Head of Story Josie Trinidad and Head of Editorial Fabienne Rawley shared a host of imagery and story notes that informed what would be the final film, one important element being the dynamics between the different types of animals. “We leaned into animal stereotypes,” explained Trinidad, “Elephants never forget, foxes are sly, rabbits are timid— everyone has a stereotype they’re fighting against.” Stereotypes, like a fox and a rabbit…
Having taken much of the team on a genuine safari in Africa with hopes of better understanding the relationships present in the animal kingdom, the makers of ZOOTOPIA returned knowing what they had to do. “I think all of us were profoundly changed by our trip to Africa,” adds Bush. “It’s such an amazing experience, being around hundreds, thousands of animals. In this movie, we want to feel that density, which is a lot of work. We came back after that trip with a sincere need to make it right.”
Making things “right” involved getting all the little quirks and nuances of the animals to stand out in their personalities, and that led to some fun elements of “Anim(al)ation.” One fun real-life mannerism pops up in Chief Bogo, a cape buffalo that heads up the Zootopia police department. “Anytime we passed by a herd of buffaloes they’d actually stop what they were doing and look us right in the eyes and track us until we’d gone. It’s the freakiest thing,” explains Head of Animation Renato dos Anjos. “We gave Bogo that same stare in one scene in the film when he just locks on Nick.”
About ZOOTOPIA: 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. Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Zootopia,” a comedy-adventure directed by Byron Howard (“Tangled,” “Bolt”) and Rich Moore (“Wreck-It Ralph,” “The Simpsons”) and co-directed by Jared Bush (“Penn Zero: Part-Time Hero”), opens in theaters on March 4, 2016. Get tickets now via Fandango.
THE ROCK FATHER MAGAZINE has partnered with Walt Disney Animation Studios for this content series.