In Walt Disney Animation Studios’ new feature-length marvel Zootopia, animals have evolved to the point where they now wear clothes, use technology, and have constructed a sprawling metropolis where predator and prey exist, cozily, side by side. The movie, directed by Byron Howard (Tangled) and Rich Moore (Wreck-It Ralph), stars Ginnifer Goodwin as Judy Hopps, an intrepid bunny who travels to Zootopia to become the city’s first bunny cop. In the course of unraveling a very big mystery, she is forced to team with a streetwise fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), and learns some huge lessons about the fragile stability of the city.
Except that it wasn’t always like this.
In the early days of Zootopia’s production, the film was focused on Nick, not Judy. The story was seen through his eyes: the various areas of the city (places like Tundratown and the Rainforest District), all of the different animals, the crime itself. Until Howard, Moore, and the rest of the creative team realized that Judy had the potential for a much bigger character arc. While Nick was the perfect character to get her there, it was Judy’s story that begged to be told. All of this came as a huge surprise to Goodwin.
“I didn’t know that it was happening, that the decision had been made,” Goodwin said, during a Skype conversation earlier this week. “There was a short period of time between recording sessions and the guys all came out to Vancouver, which we sometimes did for recording sessions if my Once Upon A Time schedule couldn’t get me to LA. The guys all came up and we were talking about a screening they had had and all of the sudden one of them said, ‘Oh my gosh, nobody told you!’ and one of them said, ‘Well, we rewrote the whole script.’” Goodwin was, understandably, surprised. And excited. “And whoever was the messenger said … ‘you’ve got a lot more work that you’re going to have to do.’ And, I mean, I did think they were kidding. It’s an actor’s biggest dream to be told that you’re going to get to do a whole lot more. But I thought they were teasing me.”
“Disney is the pinnacle of storytelling,” Goodwin said, matter-of-factly. “Every time I go into a Disney film, to this day, I know it’s going to be wonderful because it’s going to be a nostalgic experience, and inevitably that I’ll be sobbing halfway through because something has punched me in the gut.” She then broke down this storytelling: “It’s that they tell a story in such a way that you laugh so hard that you’re open to going to some really dark places, and I feel like there’s always some inspiring message without it being a message film. Nothing’s ever beaten into you and nothing’s sugarcoated. It’s always a good time and it’s always peppered with something that’s so real.”
Goodwin is also dazzled by the way that Disney uses technology, which is apt given the numerous technological breakthroughs found nestled in Zootopia. “I think technologically what Disney does is always unparalleled. I mean, Walt was our first Steve Jobs in what he did to try and change how we tell stories. I look at Zootopia and it’s like a whole other world. Zootopia is so different than the last Disney film that came out. Some of the scenes look like they’re photographed!” While she was making Zootopia, the filmmakers only showed her two-dimensional sketches of her character. When she saw the final film, the one that now features her character’s story, she was blown away.
But we had to ask one more question of Goodwin: How does she feel about possibly being the only actress in Disney history to have played a princess (on Once Upon a Time), a fairy (in the charming home entertainment release Tinker Bell and the Legend of the NeverBeast), and now a talking animal? “As a lover of Disney, I couldn’t be more proud. I just hope they keep giving me jobs. I told John Lasseter that I will happily just pass out coffee in the lobby to the employees; I just don’t want to leave.” We don’t want her to leave either.
Zootopia in 3D is in theaters March 4. Look for more wild Zootopia coverage in the lead up to the film’s release, right here.