Zootopia is set to be released on Bluray/DVD June 7th! I had the opportunity to interview Directors Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Producer Clark Spencer last month at DisneyToon Studios lot. This wasn’t the first time I crossed paths with Directors Howard & Moore, they attended a screening of the film in St. Louis back in February and answered questions with audience members. I was a bit surprised this event took place, St. Louis is not a common stop for movie talent, however, after watching the film I understood the impact it had on my community.
I grew up in the St. Louis area, particularly the North County area of St. Louis which includes Florissant, Spanish Lake and Ferguson. Yes, I said Ferguson. I’m sure you’ve heard of the huge events that went down in Ferguson the last couple of years and the impact it had on not just my area but the entire nation. How does this relate to Zootopia? Zootopia is not afraid to take on some big issues and in fact, tackles the issue of bigotry and its effects on a community. So of course, the first thing I wanted to know was the feedback they received on the film.
The Aftermath of Zootopia’s Release
BYRON HOWARD: I think we were really happy that the message landed with so many people. I talked about it, the idea came from that watering hole idea that it evolved very organically. But, as we got into it, we thought, this is really compelling. We thought, this is really difficult, and really compelling. And we all had to work very hard together to figure out how to make the movie say what it needed to say. Plus the fact that people find Judy so empowering, I think was really inspiring to us.
RICH MOORE: As we were making the film, we didn’t start as like, “We’re gonna make a message movie here.” You know? But we wanted it to play on a deep level, we wanted it to be about something. People have said to us like, “Well did you guys have a crystal ball or something? Did you know these things were going to happen?” And as we were making the film, these things would pop up in the news, you know? And, I’m like, “Oh my god. Something has happened that this movie is oddly timely, you know? What we’re making here is very relevant to today.” That made us work even harder to make it the best it could be. We didn’t want it to come across as preachy. Those topics, they’re complex, they’re messy. So it inspired us to really make the movie as genuine and real as possible. That it didn’t pull punches, but it also didn’t try to sugar coat this stuff, you know?
Research In Africa
BYRON HOWARD: It was incredible. One of the best things about working here, we all believe that the best stories come from research. And so we really wanted to make sure that we were telling a story not just about cartoon animals, but what makes real animals amazing. And we all love animals, but all of us had just been to zoos. I think we’d all grown up just going to zoos. I grew up in Philadelphia, I went to the Philadelphia zoo, it’s a great zoo. But we really felt like we wanted to go there and see animals for real. So they flew us into Nairobi, they put us in these little tiny bush planes, and flew us way the heck out into the middle of nowhere. We actually flew over Pride Rock, where The Lion King team did their research.
You stepped out of the plane, everything was like just quiet. It feels different. The air feels different. It’s just open. And the places we visited in Africa haven’t changed in like 40,000 years. The environment is the same. The animals have a society that’s actually exists, these groups move together like human beings do. And so it’s like being in their version of a city. That’s where the whole bias idea came from us watching these animals around this watering hole. One of our camps was about 30 feet from a watering hole, we’d watch these animals kinda all come in during the day in herds of anywhere from 20 to 500 animals. Wildebeests came in and giraffes, antelope and lions would drink right next to each other at the watering hole. And no funny business. No one was attacking each other, there’s no aggression. They just got their water, they kinda looked at each other, and then they went their separate ways. And we thought, that’s very much like our own society. Like groups don’t always get along. We have these cities where we all have to figure out how to live together without killing each other. It was a great experience. But that, I think that first camp next to the watering hole I think was a real eye opener for all of us because we had no idea it was gonna get into us that much. So when we came back, we had all our leadership on that trip. We had animation. We had our art director. We had our character designer. And those folks all came back with this desire to make the movie so much better because of what we had learned.
“It came out of one of our brainstorming sessions when someone said, “You know, if there’s a DMV in Zootopia, it should be run by sloths.” And he thought he was just throwing a joke out into the room. He didn’t think it would land, and everyone just kind of went, “Oh.” That was such a brilliant idea. Bingo! Immediately there was something about the idea of a DMV run by sloths. We all had to think if it had ever been done before? We’re just thinking, someone has to have done that. And we were looking around, it’s like no? So, we immediately got very excited about the idea. And there’s just sometimes that happens when, we all get together in groups.
It’s a very collaborative process where we bring other writers and directors and story artists into the room and, and we all talk for many, many, many meetings and all at the same time. Sometimes we listen. Sometimes but not always but when we hear a good idea, the room kind of catches fire, and that really was one of those ideas that happened like that. Well, and it happened so fast- I mean, for a character that’s so slow, it’s like his creation, his genesis happened like a big bang. Where it was like, oh my gosh, that’s really funny. And we literally the next day saw after talking about or it presenting itself we saw John Lasseter. Then next thing we’re like, “We got this idea about like a sloth running the DMV.” He’s like, “Oh my gosh.” So we spent the next 90 minutes acting it out, and like acting the beats. Almost beat for beat, exactly what’s in the movie. We must’ve gone through it four or five times, and, and it was locked in everyone’s head.
After the interview, we all had a little drawing class and took a group photo. It was an incredible day and such a pleasure to interview and learn all the behind the scenes fun that went into such an amazing story. Zootopia comes out on Bluray/DVD June 7th, you WILL want to own it!