An interview with the Directors and Producer of Zootopia
The smash hit animated film Zootopia comes to Blu-Ray and DVD on June 7th. In anticipation of the movie coming out for home viewing I am sharing an interview with Directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore and Producer Clark Spencer. You may remember I was lucky enough to interview the directors of Zootopia at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park a few months ago before the movie had been released. It was fascinating to hear them talk about this movie that we knew would be unlike anything anyone had ever seen before. It was even more exciting to speak with them on the other end, now that the movie has been released and was so warmly received by audiences everywhere.
Zootopia is unique and so timely. While animated films take several years to create, Zootopia could not have been released at a more perfect time for our nation, and really the entire world. If we are being honest, bias has always been a problem, but the conversation has really begun to get even more heated and polarizing. Zootopia takes on this difficult topic in a way that even children can understand and opens people up to conversations.
What surprised me is that the plan for Zootopia to have the main theme of bias running throughout it was not the original plan with this movie of animals walking around on two legs. Byron and Rich shared that when they took their first research trip to Africa they noticed something interesting that happened with animals in the wild, specifically at the watering hole.
Byron shared “….what we noticed was amazing. Animals, predator and prey, lions would come and drink right next to antelope and zebra, which they normally eat. And during the day, they just come in, they see each other. They’re aware of each other, but they just drink, they give each other a look, and they go their separate ways. Everyone is very well behaved around the watering hole. We thought that’s really interesting. That’s like two groups that normally, frequently don’t get along and don’t see eye to eye or have different overall goals in how to survive, but in certain situations, they have to figure out how to work together, and we thought that’s a very interesting sort of parallel to our own world.”
He went on to say that they knew they had to make a movie that took on bias, they knew it would be difficult, but it would be powerful. They continued with research and spoke with experts on bias as much as they did on animal anatomy. Those who have seen the movie know that Disney tells a difficult story in a way that opens up conversations and hearts perhaps a bit more than before they walked in the theaters.
Both Byron and Rich spoke of the commitment to the role by the lead characters – Jason Bateman and Ginnifer Goodwin. Rich shared that Bateman is a comedian first and foremost but that in one certain scene in particular where he shares about betrayal as a child that his vulnerability really brought depth to the character. And Byron and Rich agreed that when Judy and Nick meet under the bridge that Ginnifer brought such authenticity to the character in that moment especially. In addition to Jason and Ginnifer being fully committed actors, they said lead animator Kira Lehtomaki was in charge of this scene. The two refer to Kira as a ‘natural animator‘ who is so good, it feels as if they are not even trying. Byron said “It feels they’re not even trying. It feels like she’s just doing it, and it feels real. And when I look at that character, when I look at Judy breaking down and feeling that, I cannot believe that that’s not a real living character. I can’t believe that’s not a real, living thing I’m seeing on screen. It’s not a bunch of pixels. It’s not an artifice of animation. It’s not a cartoon, and that, I think, is a real tribute to what our artists can do and what a good performance from the actor can be…”
In addition to a timely theme, truly committed talent – they had awesome jokes that just worked. Producer Clark Spencer shared about how one scene in particular resonated so well with so many audiences. There are so many great bits in the movie Zootopia, but we all know the DMV full of sloths is hands down, the silliest thing we’ve ever seen. They shared that this scene works in every country, in every language, in every culture. And unbelievably, it has never been done before. It’s just one little scene that once again shows that on even another level this movie is so relate-able to all audiences. He says “It was amazing to watch and feel that sense of people just falling in love with the character Flash and totally relating to this scene in such an incredible way….. Rich always says there’s this weird science in that scene, and what was fun to watch is it’s sort of the beginning of when Judy says “they’re all sloths?!”, and then you see the slow action and the audience is laughing.”
Zootopia is one of my favorite Disney animated films in a very long time. Being able to interview the makers of this movie makes it even more dear to my heart. Thank you to Rich, Byron, and Clark for taking the time to share a little about what went into directing and producing this movie that will surely go down in history. We can’t wait to add it to our family movie library!
You can preorder Zootopia on Amazon now!