Last week I had the pleasure to visit Disney Toon Studios to learn all about Disney’s animated feature film ZOOTOPIA, which is out on Blu-Ray/DVD on June 7. We watched bonus footage that will be released in the combo pack, got to have an animation lesson with Director Byron Howard to draw Clawhauser, and had a Q&A with Directors Byron Howard & Rich Moore and Producer Clark Spencer. It was actually my second time getting to interview the trio.
Rich Moore talked about how this stage in the movie producing process is very reflective. All of their involvement making the film and promoting it has basically come to an end. It's still out in some markets, and in Japan, but it's somewhat the end of the road for the movie, even though it will be around forever.
It feels great, that this movie that we worked so hard on, that we believed in, that the studio looked at and said, “This is an important film,” has been embraced so lovingly by the audience and the characters that we were very close to for, well Bryon for a long time, and me for a few years. We’ve fallen in love with our characters.
To see the rest of the world, not just the U.S., but right now in Japan there are ladies in the audience that are like, “Nick would be such a great boyfriend.” “I'm in love with Nick.” And it’s really cool that people are seeing the things that we love about the movie, too.
Byron Howard said that the movie goes beyond them very quickly. They spend a lot of time in rooms just talking about these ideas and hope they will catch on, but then they see what people gravitate to in different countries, such as the fact that Zootopia as a word is now a thing. It was a weird word that they made up and now it's a “thing.” They are very aware that this happens with Disney movies.
We know that these things stay around forever, which goes way beyond us, and so we try to be very responsible about what movies are saying, about the qualities of the characters, because we fall in love with the characters just as much as we hope the audience will. We try to, as much as we can, put ourselves and what we love about our families and the world into these movies that people can relate and find something common no matter where they go. And going around the world was really educational for us, because we just go to watch many different nationalities of people fall in love with the movie in different ways and that was really rewarding for us.
Rich said they often find things that surprise them when they are making movies. He mentioned there were some scenes they tested that actually scared some of the grown men and women, and at one point they thought they were going to have to pull back on some of the more intense scenes—because they had two pretty good ones. They were worried it was going to be too scary. So they waited until the preview screening in Arizona, and people ate it up. So the scenes stayed. Apparently the kids love to be scared and the whole audience loves the startles. “It’s like a thrill ride, I think. It’s like a roller coaster,” Rich said.
Clark Spencer talked about the female bias aspect. He said it was amazing how in different parts of the world people responded to different things and it was amazing to watch some people look at it and think about the female bias. Some people looked at it and they look at the empowerment of Judy as a character, and they look at someone who’s trying to blaze that trail.
One of the interesting thing for us was in China where the movie’s been huge, but then it was that train ride. The train ride going into the city because in China right now there’s such a migration from the countryside to the big city and kids leaving their families and they do it by a train.
And for them that was a really emotional moment in the film for the parents to let their daughters get on a train and go in the city and we knew that people might relate to that concept of having to let go of your child at certain point in time but not in the way that they did because of the fact that it was a train ride from the countryside into the city. I mean we never could have guessed that but it was one of the huge things and one of the reasons the movie performed was people could really relate to that on an emotional level and I think those are the things where when you’re making it you’re in it making the story that you see and then it’s fun to watch how the world sees that same story from their own perspective, their own lives.
Byron also talked about how Disney has a knack for dealing with real life emotions in a way that doesn't make them too dark. We're becoming soft as a society, really because this gives us an opportunity to have the conversations with our children presented in such a human way.
We thought it was actually great that we were talking about subject that was so difficult, because there’s so much stuff in the news over the last couple of years which has been about bias and tricky. We’re talking about the scary thing and the dark thing. I think we like that Disney can deal with real life emotions, things you’d experience. I think it’s going back to Bambi and Lion King.
They were very mature ideas but in the way they were presented, it’s something that it’s almost like a rite of passage seeing Bambi or seeing Lion King, because Lion King was great with the families, allowing them to talk to their families about death, and I think the same way with Zootopia. What we’d hoped is that it’s such a tricky subject to talk about bias, but in crafting it in a way that the story isn’t a message movie but it comes to the experience of the characters and that you can relate to what Judy’s going through, you can relate to her struggle that people will find a way to relate to that within themselves.
And we’ve gotten so much positive feedback from people who have seen the film—men and women who relate to Judy and to Nick about different struggles in their own lives—and it’s really rewarding for us to see that connect with people on a real way. So I think we always wanna make entertaining films, but if it’s not about something real, if it’s not about something that really affects people then we’re not doing our job.
We’re not gonna make a movie where we’re constantly trying to scare the audience over and over again. It’s like we will always temper it with a joke or we’ll take the tension high, but then we’ll kind of level out, and I think that’s important because there can be scary moments, but as long we put the audience—especially the younger people in the audience—back together again before we finish the film, I think that’s a good thing, because then you come out of that theatre feeling—I remember when I was a kid feeling like, “Oh, my god,” after seeing like Jungle Book, the original one, or Pinocchio and feeling like, “Wow, I have been on a journey, but I made it back safe, and I feel better about the world now,” and that’s kind of our job.
It’s not to sugarcoat the beats of the movie but to temper them so it feels like you’ve experienced something from young to old, but that we haven’t broken you up and just kind of thrown to pieces under the street.
Clark, Rich, andByron each would be a different character if they could be a character from Zootopia. Clark would be Flash because he was feeling not quite up to speed the day we interviewed him (honestly, I could totally relate. I'd been at the red carpet event until all hours the night before). Rich said he'd be Judy. He said he always goes back to her because he can relate to her. There's something about her that he loves, she's driven, her quirky optimism. He loves Nick, but he's not as cool as Nick. Byron said he was Clawhauser. Not because he was hungry and wanted a donut, but because he's such a warm character that is played for laughs in the film. He's a very lovable and emotional character.
And then Byron taught us how to draw Clawhauser. I always love an animation class! It's one of my favorite behind-the scenes activities on these animation studios trips. And Byron complimented my Clawhauser, so I'll take it!
Grab your copy of Zootopia on BluRay/DVD today! (that's an affiliate link, by the way).