Last time I met with the filmmakers of Zootopia was December 2015, about 3 months before the filmed opened to theaters the following March. Little did Byron Howard, Rich Moore, and Clark Spencer knew, Zootopia would go on to make nearly a billion dollars worldwide and be the second highest grossing original film of all time, with only James Cameron’s Avatar surpassing it (barely). This is something the filmmakers were excited and surprised to see.
It’s a reflective time right now”, Rich Moore, director says with a smile. “It feels great that this movie that we worked so hard on, that we believed in, that we really, 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… we’ve fallen in love with our characters”.
“It was amazing to kind of watch some people look at it and they think about the female bias”, Clark Spencer, producer adds. “Some people look at it and they look at the empowerment of Judy as 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 was the train ride going into the city because in China right now there’s such a migration from the country side to the big city and kids leaving their families and they do it by a train. 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”.
The rest of the world has obviously also fallen in love with Judy Hopps, Nick Wilde, and the rest of the cast (my personal favorite is Clawhouser!). “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 like really cool that people are seeing the things that we love about the movie, too”. (Rich Moore)
“Going around the world was really educational for us because we just go to watch many, many different nationalities of people fall in love with the movie in different ways and that was really rewarding for us” adds director Byron Howard.
One thing the creators of Zootopia were a little nervous about is the portrayal of animals who have gone savage and the “jump factor” associated with it, but the focus group was excited about it. “Overwhelmingly they were like I loved that part where you scared us”, said Rich. “That was so fun. That would have terrified me as a little kid. but kids love to be scared. It’s like the whole audience really loves those startles. It’s like a roller coaster”.
The creators have been overwhelmed with positive feedback from viewers everywhere. Zootopia has been rated a huge 98% on Rotten Tomatoes, making it the 34th highest rated movie of all time.
“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 want to 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”. Byron Howard relates Zootopia to the social issues going on in the world today. “I think that Disney can deal with real life emotions, things you’d experience. I think it’s going back to Bambi and The Lion King“.
When working with singing star Shakira, who plays Zootopia pop star Gazelle, they wanted to use her social awareness as part of Gazelle’s character.
“She’s very socially aware and even in that first meeting our opinion of what that character should be changed,” Clark said. “We started to think about Gazelle as now being a social symbol for the city representing everything that’s great that Judy expects the city to be when she gets there. One thing that we learned later on when we were recording with her in Barcelona, she told us that she related to Judy because in Columbia where she grew up, she wanted to be as a little girl, a cop. She saw people being bullied and things happening around her that she wanted to correct. That’s remarkable when a voice talent and someone who can bring great music to a film but also have that sort of personal connection”.
And with that we got a lesson in drawing my favorite character, Clawhouser! Byron showed us the very basics of drawing him and I don’t think I did too bad…