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Zootopia: My Reactions and an Interview with the Directors

New Disney movie!!

We saw a screening of Zootopia a couple of days ago and I have to admit that I was a little iffy on this one. If you’re ever worried that I’m fluffing my reviews up because I’ve drunk too much of the Disney Kool-Aid, let me remind you that I was among the first to report back that Disney’s Chicken Little was NOT worth seeing in the theater and since that was another anthropomorphic animals comedy-esque film, I walked into this one with a very low bar and an expectation that it would be somewhere between straight-to-video and hey-that-one-scene-was-so-funny.

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Ok. It’s actually really cute.

Yes, the animals are wearing clothes and some of the humor is directed way over the heads of any kids I know, but it’s beautifully made, the characters are very rich, and the story had a lot of angles that could start some great family conversations (reminiscent of Inside Out). Kyle absolutely loved it and said it reminded him of the great buddy cop movies of the ’80s and we both noticed the insane detail in city that serves as the background for most of the story.

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As for the kid take-aways, it’s your typical little-guy-wins-by-being-kind Disney film, but there’s also a great relationship between the two main characters, Judy and Nick, and it’s the best example of a non-romantic male/female friendship I’ve ever seen in a family film. I always had best friends who were boys when I was growing up and there was never a good model for that because the assumption is that the guy is always saving the girl or that she “wins” by having the guy fall in love with her, which is an awkward game for 8 year olds who are all “thanks but nope” about each other. Loved that about this movie.

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I actually had the chance to sit down with the directors of Zootopia today and chat about that relationship and they had some great points to make about the character development. (Light spoilers here, I guess, but it’s really not that kind of movie…)

Byron Howard: I think it’s nice that Judy is such a strong character that she doesn’t feel like she needs another character to complete her. In a lot of these cop shows, you have very strong emotional relationships between partners and we loved that potential for this movie. You almost want to see them get together because the chemistry is so good between them, but we didn’t want to make that romantic.”

Rich Moore: I like that Judy is a character that isn’t looking for romance to make her life better. She’s following a passion – a calling – and that doesn’t involve a man who is going to get her to that level. This is a maturation story of self-discovery, but she does need a friend throughout the story. She has the world against her and Nick becomes that common misfit who has had the same background. It’s difficult for one person to heal themselves in a vacuum but when a conversation between two people that share common stories can happen, that’s healing.”

They also had some great things to say about the cast and how perfect each person was for his/her character:

Rich Moore: “It’s not by chance that the characters start to look like the actors. We shoot a lot of reference video of the actors as they’re recording and our animators look at that reference video, not to copy exactly what they’re doing but to see what the expression or mouth shape was on a certain line. It starts to seep into the performance so even though you have this character with an animal face, it starts to look like the actor because the animators are picking up on those things.

We were really lucky to get the top people that we wanted for this film because what we do is we build a board of characters and actors that remind us of the character. We put it up to get everyone in the room on the same page and from that we start to think of who would be good to play those characters. Using that as the pool, we go to our casting director and say “we see them as this person” and she’ll go out to try to get those people. We were so lucky – every character, she was able to get our top pick. This is our dream cast.”

Byron shared a great story about an unexpected source of inspiration from his childhood and it would kill it if I transcribed the whole thing, so I’ll just share my audio file from the interview. I don’t usually do this, but it’s only 13 minutes long and they said so many interesting little things that I know my Disney fan friends would love to hear. It starts just a little bit late into the interview because I’m a dope who was too excited to hit record before I started asking questions…

 

Thank you to the directors for making time to chat!

Zootopia directors

Zootopia comes out on March 4th, which is both this Friday and Eva’s 5th birthday (don’t ask me how that happened!) so I hope you go and love it and send pixie dust birthday vibes to my girl while you’re leaving. I don’t know what we’ll be doing but a 2nd viewing is not outside the realm of possibility…

Zootopia screening

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