By Kharisma McIlwaine
Disney’s newest animation film Zootopia tells the story of the clever and resilient bunny named Judy Hopps. Byron Howard the creative mind behind Tangled and Bolt, and Rich Moore who gifted us with Wreck it Ralph directed the film. The attention to detail and the nuances found in each character are extraordinary.
Howard gave some insight into the research process during the development stages of the characters.
“Our first stop was Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park in Florida. After that our team went to Kenya!” said Howard.
“We took about 14 of our team members and spent two weeks out in the middle of the Savannah right next to 50,000 wildebeests and a herd of 200 zebra,” continued the filmmaker who grew up in Philadelphia and Lansdowne.
In the film, Judy Hopps is determined to be the first ever bunny police officer in the big city despite the stereotypes associated with her size. After meeting her fair share of naysayers and shady characters, Judy finds herself on a quest with an unwilling Fox turned friend to solve the biggest case of her career. During this adventure, Judy is forced to examine what she believes in and who she really is.
“What our team did that we’re so proud of is that they really took the task to heart to make sure this didn’t feel like every other animal movie. They really took what’s amazing about each species and brought it to the animation,” he said.
The title Zootopia speaks directly to what the animation was able to achieve with the appearance of the film: a perfect representation of the animal kingdom.
The supremely talented cast of voice actors include Ginnifer Goodwin (Judy Hopps), Jason Bateman (Nick Wilde), Shakira (Gazelle), Jenny Slate (Marcel the Shell), Oscar winner Octavia Spencer (Mrs. Otterton) and Idris Alba (Chief Bogo).
Howard shared a moving anecdote about working with Oscar winner Octavia Spencer on set.
“Octavia plays Mrs. Otterton and she has to be a very empathetic character. You really had to care about this otter that was missing her husband. If that didn’t work, Judy’s drive wouldn’t work in the movie.”
“She’s an Oscar winner and you can see why,” said Howard noting that Butler’s powerful, emotional acting out of the scenes in preparation almost brought both directors to tears.
Howard explained that the inception for some of the film’s themes began during their year of research. The directors learned that there’s the majority and minority dynamic that exist in the animal world. The mammal world is 10 percent predator while the remainder is prey.
“We thought even if these animals have evolved and created this great city, do you think they would have completely left behind that mistrust and fear that they had way back when?” said Howard.
That gave the directors the building for the plot and big themes of the film.
Moore echoed these thoughts by explaining how the complexity of the characters further promotes the idea that self examination is necessary in order for there to be growth.
“What we love about Judy Hopps is that she’s this very idealistic bunny, but she’s also a flawed character. She really does a lot of growing up and realizes that things aren’t always as simple as you think they’re going to be,” co-director Moore.
There are lessons to be learned after seeing Zootopia. It’s the reminder that the world is complicated, people are multifaceted and variety is the spice of life. Everyone should be afforded the opportunity to prove who they are without their physical appearances dictating what that should look like.
Zootopia hits theaters nationwide on March 4.