While the holidays are almost upon us, we’re already looking ahead to next spring when Zootopia, the 55th animated feature from Walt Disney Animation Studios, finally hits the big screen. Zootopia is set in a world where anthropomorphic animals use current technology and live in vast urban environments (places like Tundra Town and Sahara Square), and places a mismatched duo, Zootopia’s first bunny cop Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) and a sly scam-artist fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) in the middle of an intricate mystery. Trust us when we say that it’s another animated Disney classic, easily resting alongside similarly animal-centric fare like Robin Hood and The Lion King, as evidenced in this brand new trailer.
This trailer really gives you a taste of the vastness of the Zootopia world, and primarily focuses on a scene where Nick and Judy are running down a lead at the DMV. Of course, in Zootopia, the DMV is run completely by sloths so … it takes a while. The scene was a favorite of Zootopia executive producer John Lasseter, and when the scene was played in full at this year’s D23 Expo, the crowd went nuts.
We were lucky enough to chat with Zootopia producer Clark Spencer (who also oversaw such favorites as Lilo & Stitch, Winnie the Pooh, and Tangled) about the technical accomplishments of the film, finding a relatable story, and how it moved away from its film noir beginnings to something more meaningful and heartfelt.
This is an amazing world and an incredible technical accomplishment. Was that part of the thrill of the project as a producer?
Oh, definitely. When Byron pitched it, I thought that the world itself would be its own technical achievement, but then you have people talking about the fur being realistic and the fur being different on all 50 characters—based on the way that fur exists in the real world. Most films use human hair as a proxy for animals’ hair. They use human hair and color it a different way. But no, we wanted to make sure the sheep, and the mouse, and the yak, and the polar bear have a different groom. So you put that in there. And then we want wind to always be in the city, so there’s always movement happening. Then we say to the animators, they can’t be humans in animal suits, they have to have animal behavior but they can’t be 100% animals. So we kept layering thing on top of thing, and as a producer you have to ask, “Can we do all of this?” When we started the movie, technically, we couldn’t. We all jumped off the roof at the same time. We worked in parallel paths as we built the story, and there has to be a certain amount of faith that we’ll get there. But being at this studio, you’re surrounded by people who are determined to figure it out.
But finding the story in this world must have been just as tricky.
I think all stories are really tough. I think if it was easy, then every movie would be fantastic. I think every film has a story out there and we’re going to find it. I’m not sure what path is going to get us there and once we get there we’re going to look back and say, Well why didn’t we do this the whole time? It’ll seem so obvious. But you have to go down these different journeys and try these ideas to land the best one.
Originally it was a little bit more film noir. How did it go from there to this more stylized buddy comedy?
It’s true. Early on, Byron Howard pitched this idea of going to an all-animal world. John Lasseter loved it and green-lighted it immediately. So then it comes to developing that story and Byron was pitching film noir and spy movies and John kept saying, “Do research.” So as we did research, we had this meeting with someone who would ultimately become our guide when we went to Kenya. But he said that there are predators and there are prey animals. He said there are 10 prey animals for every one predator. And it makes sense. We thought it was really fascinating, so we hooked onto that idea of the fact that there’s a majority and a minority and it was interesting to think that predators were the minority. So that led to the idea of telling the story of bias, where two groups are assuming something about each other, but they’re both wrong. That’s when the whole story shifted. We realized that we didn’t need spy or film noir.
Zootopia is in theaters (in 3D!) March 4.